By Brandon Alter | File photo by Allen Sharpe
South Carolina knew it had to play almost perfect softball to come up with a series win against Alabama. On Friday night, a close game became a blowout as mistakes piled up for the Garnet and Black.
Alabama showed why it is ranked No. 4 in the country as the Crimson Tide took an early lead and led wire to wire, piling up 13 hits before winning in convincing fashion. They turned a two-run game into a blowout by scoring seven runs in the final two innings to defeat No. 17 South Carolina 9-1.
“I thought it was a disappointing performance on our part,” South Carolina head coach Beverly Smith said. “Certainly, we are going to regroup. … The series is still in front of us. We’ll come out and compete tomorrow.”
Alabama took a 2-0 lead just three batters into the game on a two-run single up the middle. It was all the Crimson Tide would need. Cayla Drotar allowed a leadoff single and then a double off the right-center wall to find herself in an early jam and the Crimson Tide took the lead on the next at-bat.
The Gamecocks offense was shut down by Alabama pitching as they registered just six hits. Mackenzie Boesel led the way, reaching base three times with a walk and two hits. Alexis Lindsey was the only Gamecock with an RBI as she homered to start the seventh. It was her first career home run.
The Gamecocks knew they had to have timely hits, but they squandered those chances Friday night. When the team did get runners on, they left them there, going 1-for-12 with runners on and leaving seven on base.
“We were our worst enemies tonight,” Smith said. “We had opportunists [but] we were missing that clutch hit.”
After a rough start, Drotar settled down and gave her team a chance. She went six innings, had five strikeouts and surrendered just one walk and allowed four runs, three earned. Kelsey Oh came in for Drotar in the seventh and did not fare well. She allowed five runs, three earned, on five hits and one walk. She faced ten batters in the one inning.
“I think Kelsey Oh was attacking the zone and we didn’t play good defense behind her,” Smith said. “We had opportunities for outs that we didn’t get.”
The Gamecocks made several mistakes, both offensively and defensively, that made the difference. They had three errors that all led to runs.
In the first inning, Kenzi Maguire tried going to second on a throw that got away from the first baseman but was easily gunned down at second. In the third, Madison Owens was picked off second to end the inning.
On defense, two throwing errors in the sixth, one by Jana Johns and one by Owens, allowed a run to score. In the seventh, Alexis Lindsey dropped a routine fly ball that allowed a run to score from second that made the score 5-0.
“I think it’s uncharacteristic of our team,” Smith said of the mistakes. “Defense is something we take a lot of pride in. It certainly was not a strong game for us defensively tonight."
Despite trialing 9-0 and down to their final three outs, the Gamecocks didn’t give up. Lindsey hit the first pitch of the bottom of the seventh over the right field wall, ensuring the Gamecocks would not be shutout for the third time at home this season. With two out, Boesel and Maguire reached base before Johns popped out to end the game. That is the fight Smith is looking for the rest of the series.
“Compete,” Smith said when asked what the team needs to do to win the series. “I think we prepared. I think the kids just need to go out compete. Every at-bat, every pitch, every out. I would just like to see them a little more intense.”
The teams meet again at 6 p.m. Saturday in a game on ESPN. The Gamecocks will be retiring their first jersey in program history to honor Trinity Johnson, who won National Player of the Year in 1997.