By Brandon Alter | File photo by Allen Sharpe
Five and a half weeks ago, South Carolina’s season was full of promise. The team was 10-2 and had just run-ruled Charlotte for its sixth run-rule victory in seven games and seventh during a 15-game win streak entering conference play.
South Carolina found itself in an entirely different situation when it faced the 49ers on Wednesday night at Beckham Field. Entering the midweek matchup, the Gamecocks hadn’t run-ruled any opponent in more than two weeks.
But the team’s offense came alive against the 49ers (11-23) for the second time this season, scoring seven runs on seven hits and six walks. The team came just feet from a fifth-inning home run that would have capped another run-rule win.
Behind the promising offense and a commanding performance from pitcher Kelsey Oh, the No. 17 Gamecocks (26-10, 3-8 SEC) cruised to a 7-0 win. Its the team’s 20th-straight non-conference win.
“Good win. Good win. I like it when we put runs on the board and I’m always happy when we get a shutout,” South Carolina head coach Beverly Smith said.
The offensive was led by Mackenzie Boesel, who had a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth, and Jordan Fabian, who recorded the first multi-RBI game of her career when she hit a two-RBI double just before Boesel’s blast. Both had multi-hit games. Kenzi Maguire, Jana Johns and Lauren Stewart all checked in with a hit. In the circle, Oh threw six strikeouts in a three-hit complete game.
“I think for Kelsey it is about getting some midweek innings here. I thought that was good. Getting her command [back]. She wasn’t missing by much, but we’re always talking about ‘attack the zone.’ She settled down and did that well,” Smith said.
The offensive outburst had to wait, as the Gamecocks found themselves in trouble in the top of the first. Oh made her third start in four games and was sloppy out of the gate. The sophomore loaded the bases after four batters, prompting a visit from Smith. After the infielders retreated back to their positions, Smith said one last thing to her pitcher and then watched from the dugout as Oh proceeded to strikeout the next two batters to leave the bases loaded.
“We just took a deep breath to calm her down and were like, ‘You got us. You got this. Let us field behind you. Just put the ball right there and we will get you,’” Boesel said. “She didn’t really listen to us, because we said we got her back, but she picked herself up, so that’s just what Kelsey does and she’s great at that.”
“I reminded Kelsey to breathe. It was just about her getting into her routine and breathing,” Smith said. “When Kelsey’s commanding, she’s tough to hit.”
The Gamecocks continued the momentum by scoring two runs in the bottom half of the frame. After leading off with a walk, Boesel scored on a Kenzi Maguire bunt after two Charlotte throwing errors. Maguire then scored on a Cayla Drotar sacrifice fly to center.
In the fourth, Oh surrendered a leadoff walk, her first base runner since the first inning, but was able to strand the runner at second.
The Gamecocks once again turned the momentum from defense to do damage on offense. Fabian fouled a ball off her right leg and took a minute to shake it off. She then hit the two-RBI double back up the middle to give South Carolina a 4-0 lead.
“It feels pretty good. I was just trying to get it done for the team,” Fabian said. “I was just trying to score runs. Trying to move the runners.”
“I was really impressed with Jordan Fabian tonight. I think for her to come up, I think she did a great job with two strikes. Shortening up. Making sure she put the ball in play and something happening for us,” Smith said. “In her last [at-bat] turning the lineup over, I thought that was big. She does a great job working behind the plate for Kelsey as well.”
Charlotte brought in a new pitcher to face the top of the Gamecocks order, but Boesel responded by smacking the two-run shot to left center field to extend the Gamecocks lead to 6-0.
“I just saw it right in my hit zone and I went and attacked it. That was exactly what I was looking for in that count, so I took advantage of it,” Boesel said. “We’re really focused on attacking at the plate. Getting our pitches to hit.”
The Gamecocks tacked on a run in the bottom of the fifth and another in the sixth to complete the run-rule victory.
The Gamecocks hope the timely hitting continues over the weekend, when No. 4 Alabama comes to town for a three-game series. South Carolina hopes it could be a season-changing series as half of the SEC schedule still remains.