By Brandon Alter | Photo courtesy of SC Athletics
In head coach Beverly Smith’s nine-year tenue at South Carolina, there has been no shortage of dramatic wins. Her 300th, which came Wednesday night, only adds to the lengthly list.
Wednesday’s comeback, a 5-4 thriller capped by an Alyssa Kumiyama walk-off single after the team trailed 4-0 with six outs to go against against Duke, will rank high on the list.
Especially with Tar Heel Blue still in Smith’s veins.
“That was amazing,” said Gamecock centerfielder Lauren Stewart, who had two clutch hits on the night. “With her being a graduate from UNC, we knew this had a little bit more extra feeling.”
“It was exciting,” Smith said, clutching a ball from the milestone win in her left hand. “All the wins are hard to come by. This one was certainly special, being that we came from behind to do it.”
The No. 16 Gamecocks (22-7) had their backs against the wall against the Blue Devils (12-17) before they scored three runs in the sixth inning and another two in the seventh to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Alyssa Kumiyama, who hit the walk-off, was the lone Gamecock with multple hits. Stewart had three RBI to lead the team, while Kumiyama had two of her own, with Stewart scoring each time. In the circle, Dixie Raley (7-1) got the win after shutting the door on the Blue Deils in the top of the seventh, the only inning she pitched. Freshman Karly Heath got her ninth start of the year and went four innings and allowed just two hits while striking out three.
Smith ranks second among South Carolina softball head coaches. She trails Joyce Compton (951) by 651 wins.
Smith didn’t want to draw all the attention to herself. She instead pointed to her team’s ability to come back from a four-run deficit and how that will be important to its season going forward.
“I wanted to see what we were made of,” the coach said. “I didn’t think we had particularly good at-bats early on, but I know you can never count our offense out.
“I felt like the last couple of innings the team really started to swing with some intent. They started hitting balls hard and things happened.”
The Gamecocks’ spark started when Jana Johns and Cayla Drotar drew back-to-back walks to start the sixth inning. Kennedy Clark moved Johns and Madison Owens, who came in to pinch-run for Drotar, to third, bringing Stewart to the plate.
Stewart doubled home Johns and Owens to cut the Blue Devil lead to 4-2, and it brought Kumiyama to the plate. The first baseman singled home Stewart to cut the deficit to 4-3 and bring the Gamecocks within one swing of tying the game.
That swing had to wait until the bottom of the seventh.
After Raley escaped unscathed from the top half of an inning in which she allowed a leadoff triple, Kenzi Maguire doubled to start the bottom half of the frame.
“The key to that inning,” Smith said of the double.
Mackenzie Boesel then walked before Johns bunted the pair over, bringing Drotar to the plate. The junior — who pitched two innings in relief — struck out swinging to set the stage for Kennedy Clark.
Duke pitched around Clark to load the bases with two outs for Stewart, who drew a five-pitch walk. Maguire jogged home to tie the game at four.
“All I was thinking was, ‘Make [Duke’s pitcher] throw you the pitch you want,’” Stewart said. “I knew the umpire had a tight strike zone, so I just wanted to be smart, be selective and get the pitch I wanted. That didn’t happen, so I just took the walk for the team.”
“She had such a composed at-bat,” Smith said. “That was really big. To be able to be in that situation and not swing, at some of those pitches, [shows] she was real composed.”
That set the stage for Kumiyama.
The sophomore sent the second pitch of the at-bat back up the middle, just out of the reach of a diving second baseman and into the outfield, sealing the win for the Garnet and Black.
“Just get a base hit,” Kumiyama said of her mindset heading into the box. “Just base hits. That’s what we preach in the dugout. Just base hits. Move runners.”
She did just that.
“Kumi is just a born hitter,” Smith said. “She just hit something hard for us.”
And the moment felt sweeter for Kumiyama knowing how significant the win was for her coach.
“We love coach,” she said, turning a smirk into a wide smile. “For us to do that, it meant a lot. Just to show her we are behind her with everything.”