By Brandon Alter | File photo by Allen Sharpe
The difference between a series win and series loss for South Carolina came down to 12 feet. A 211-foot home run by Carolina’s Jana Johns and a 199-foot flyout by Alabama’s Skylar Wallace.
Johns’ home run gave the Gamecocks an early lead and Wallace’s fly out would have given Alabama the lead had it gotten over the right-field wall.
Johns’ home run was all the offense South Carolina needed as the No. 17 Gamecocks beat No. 4 Alabama 2-0 to win their first SEC series of the season. It is the first time South Carolina (28-11, 5-9 SEC) has beaten the Crimson Tide (38-4, 8-4 SEC) in a series since head coach Beverly Smith took the reins in 2011.
“We’ve talked [about how] SEC play is a grind. Every game we play is similar to this. I was just glad to see that we could make the plays,” Smith said. “I thought the players managed the innings well and it just shows whoever plays best on game day is going to win the game and that is what we talk about all the time. Just getting out there and competing.”
The Gamecocks offense picked up right where it left off Saturday night. Mackenzie Boesel singled to right field to lead off for the Gamecocks. Kenzi Maguire then bunted her to second, bringing up Johns, who smacked a 2-2 pitch over the left-center wall to give the Gamecocks a 2-0 lead.
“I was really just trying to see a pitch and attack it,” Johns said.
Johns, Boesel, Madison Owens and Kennedy Clark were each on base multiple times. Since moving to the leadoff spot, Boesel has reached base in every game, a streak that now extends to eight games.
The Crimson Tide came roaring back in the top of the second by loading the bases with two out for Wallace, who sent Dixie Raley’s pitch to the wall in right where Alexis Lindsey made a leaping catch.
The rest of the day belonged to Raley and Cayla Drotar. Raley pitched five scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and five walks. She earned her team-leading 10th win on the season and left the game in the top of the sixth to a standing ovation. She allowed one run in 12 innings over the past two days.
Drotar came in and shut the door, earning her fifth save. She went two innings, allowing one hit with two stirkeouts. She now has the fourth-most saves in a season in South Carolina history.
“I think she was commanding at the plate. It was really an outstanding performance,” Smith said of Raley. “It’s not easy to do. She was throwing her change-up effectively and being able to utilize her curveball. She was commanding in the zone and hitting her spots.”
Drotar allowed a double to the first batter she faced to put the tying run on second, but responded with two ground balls and a strikeout.
“It’s the ability to stay pitch-to-pitch,” Smith said of Drotar’s bounce-back. “She responded and came back and threw some great pitches.”
South Carolina hopes a series win against the No. 4 team in the country will help turn the tide on its season.
“We expect that from ourselves. Maybe in the past few weekends we haven’t proven to everyone what we can do,” Johns said of the upset win. “We just played with a target on our back and just competed each pitch.”
“I think it just shows what we’re capable of and it gives us great momentum going into our mid-week [game] and then heading into Auburn,” Raley said. “I think we were just beating ourselves and this weekend we played together as a team.”
Smith looked at how much the program has grown in her eight years at South Carolina when asked what it meant to her to finally beat Alabama.
“That’s exciting. That’s exciting. I think it shows the continued growth of this program and a competitive level of our players. Hopefully we’ll keep that rolling.”
The Gamecocks host Furman on Wednesday at 6 p.m. before traveling to Auburn for a weekend series.
NOTE: Shortstop Kenzi Maguire left the game after her sacrifice bunt. She stepped on the side of the bag and injured her ankle. “We’re waiting to see. We were scared it was fractured but it is not fractured and that is good news. We’re going to wait and see if there’s any other damage,” Smith said. With the injury, Owens shifted to shortstop and Karly Heath came in to play first.