By Brandon Alter | Photo by Allen Sharpe
Clinging to a two-run lead on Wednesday night in a game it needed to win to keep hard-earned momentum alive, South Carolina, with its back against the wall, turned to the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week.
Senior Dixie Raley, the third Gamecock pitcher to appear against Furman, entered with the tying run at the plate and a runner on second in the top of the seventh inning. Just as she was this past weekend against No. 4 Alabama, she was dominant, getting three outs to preserve a 9-7 Gamecock win over the Paladins.
The win is the Gamecocks 21st straight in non-conference play.
Mackenzie Boesel led the South Carolina offense. The second baseman went 2 for 3 with two doubles, two runs, two RBI and a walk. Kennedy Clark had 3 RBI thanks to a two-run moonshot in the sixth that gave the home team some breathing room.
Cayla Drotar and Alyssa Kumiyama also chipped in with two RBI each.
In the circle, Karly Heath made her 11th start and went four innings. She allowed two runs on five hits while striking out four and allowing a walk. Kelsey Oh struggled in relief, allowing five runs on six hits with five strikeouts in two innings.
Raley earned the save pitching one full inning and stranding her inherited runner.
“She’s the pitcher of the week, and she showed how she earned that title tonight,” Clark said. “She came in and she closed the game well.”
“Dixie’s great at that. She’s always been a good closer,” Boesel said. “She just did what she does all the time which is shut ‘em down.”
The Gamecocks’ offense got off to a hot start when Mackenzie Boesel led off with a double. Jana Johns, batting in the two-hole for the injured Kenzi Maguire, moved her to third on a sacrifice fly that just missed leaving the ballpark.
Clark then walked, setting up runners on the corners for Drotar. Drotar did her job, sending Boesel home on a fly ball to left field that the Paladins’ left fielder couldn’t corral. Kumiyama then brought home Alex Fulmer, who pinch ran for Drotar, and Clark, with a single up the middle to give the Gamecocks a 3-0 lead.
After a scoreless second inning, Heath found herself in a two-on, one-out situation in the third. Heath allowed two RBI singles sandwiched around a strikeout, which cut her three-run lead to one.
The three-run lead would be restored, and then some, in the fourth.
Alexis Lindsey led off with a walk before Heath helped her own cause with a bunt single. Lindsey advanced to third on a throwing error before Heath stole second to give Boesel two runners in scoring position.
The junior made no mistake and recorded her second double of the night on a shot to the left field corner to give South Carolina a 5-2 lead.
The Gamecocks weren’t done. Clark and Drotar followed Boesel with back-to-back RBI doubles to extend the South Carolina lead to 7-2.
It was a good thing the Gamecocks had some wiggle room, because Oh came in and struggled in the top of the fifth. The sophomore allowed a single and then walked two batters to load the bases. Furman wound up scoring four runs in the inning.
Clark picked up her teammate, hitting the massive home run off the scoreboard to give the Gamecocks a 9-6 lead in the bottom of the sixth.
“That home run was clutch,” Smith said. “We needed some separation.”
“I just saw a good pitch and swung at it,” Clark said. “It felt pretty good off the bat, [but] I didn’t think it would go that far.”
The Gamecocks return to SEC action with a trip to No. 12 Auburn in a weekend series looking to make up ground in a tight SEC. The Gamecocks currently sit at 10th (5-9) with fourth place, currently held by Ole Miss (7-4), only a few games ahead in the standings.