By Jeff Owens | Photo by Allen Sharpe
Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for Gamecock baseball, Furman came to town.
South Carolina, reeling from six straight losses (seven in the SEC), fell to the 21-27 Paladins 6-4 Wednesday night at Founders Park.
Andrew Eyster tied the game 4-4 with an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth, but Furman bounced back with three runs in the ninth to regain the lead. The Gamecocks, who had just six hits, stranded two baserunners in the bottom of the ninth.
South Carolina, which beat Furman 12-7 in Greenville March 19, fell to 24-24 on the season and will try to play its way into the SEC Tournament in a three-game series against Kentucky this weekend.
The Gamecocks took an early lead when Noah Campbell led off the game with a double and scored on an RBI groundout by Eyster, but Furman rallied for a 2-1 lead in the third on a two-run home run by Jabari Richards.
South Carolina tied it in the bottom of third when two Furman outfielders collided in right field and dropped Nick Neville's fly ball, allowing the Gamecock shortstop to race to third base. Neville scoed on an RBI groundout by Campbell to tie the game.
Wesley Sweatt started for the Gamecocks and pitched reasonably well, allowing only two hits, one of them Richards' homer, in four innings. Left-hander Cole Ganopulos replaced him and immediately ran into trouble. He gave up back-to-back hits with one out in the fifth and then walked Richards to load the bases. Parker Coyne replaced him and got out of the inning, but not before Furman scored two runs on a sac-fly and a wild pitch to take a 4-2 lead.
South Carolina cut the lead to one in the sixth on Hopkins' 10th home run of the season, a blast over the concourse in left field. Hopkins doubled in the eighth and scored on Eyster's game-tying single.
Dylan Harley pitched a solid eighth inning for the Gamecocks but could not sustain it. He gave up a leadoff single in the ninth and then hit a batter. After a sac-bunt, Gage Hinson replaced him and gave up a two-run single to Trent Ally and an RBI single to Logan Taplett before getting out of the inning. Harley, who was charged with all three runs, took the loss for South Carolina, falling to 2-3 on the year.
South Carolina used five pitchers but with a injury-riddled and depleted pitching staff head coach Mark Kingston was reluctant to go deeper into his bullpen with a big series against Kentucky starting Friday.
“You just see who is the next guy who can pitch," he said. "We had two outfielders who were ready to pitch tonight and we almost got to that point."
Asked how his team will approach the next few games in an attempt to stop the losing streak and win an SEC series for the first time this season, Kingston said, "You see who is going to continue to fight and who is going to give in to it."