USC has taken several gut punches in this up and down season. Saturday the Gamecocks took a shot right on the chin that might just be the knockout blow for their season. Unable to hold leads of 9-0, 10-5 and 12-11, the Gamecocks saw Texas A&M rally for a 13-12 win in College Station to clinch the series victory.
The loss drops USC to 9-14 in the SEC and puts them back under duress for qualifying for the SEC Tournament. They are one of five teams with nine league wins. Ole Miss with eight wins, and Missouri with seven wins are the two teams currently sitting on the outside of the SEC Tournament.
It appeared the Gamecocks put this one in the win column early with a seven run second inning after scoring once in the first. Josiah Sightler had a two-run single while Michael Braswell, Brandt Belk and Bralyn Wimmer each had RBI singles. The Gamecocks also scored runs on a throwing error and on a wild pitch.
Sightler homered in the fourth, his tenth of the season, for the 9-0 lead. On the mound, Noah Hall allowed just three hits over the first four innings. He worked around a pair of errors behind him while striking out four. He did hit two batters and walked one. All was good in Gamecock land through four innings.
Then the fifth inning happened. Hall gave up a single and a double, hit a batter then walked the next to force in a run. Ryan Targac then cleared the bases with a grand slam to end Hall’s Day.
Next in was Cade Austin and he kept the Aggies pretty much at bay for the next 2.1 innings. He did allow a run in the seventh that offset a Gamecock run in the top of the frame on a sacrifice by Colin Burgess. So, the teams went to the eighth with the Gamecocks still comfortably ahead 10-6. A four-run lead with six outs to go for the USC bullpen. It wasn’t enough.
The Gamecocks stranded a runner at third in the top of the eighth. The Aggies, however, did not waste their opportunities in the bottom of the inning. After giving up a lead-off double, Austin was touched for a two-run homer that cut the lead to 10-8. The next two batters reached on singles, and Austin was replaced by Matthew Becker (2-4). It would be his game to save or lose.
Becker walked the first batter he faced to load the bases. A ground out back to Becker got another run home, and a two-run single put the Aggies ahead for the first time 11-10. In the inning, the Aggies had five runs on six hits and left the bases loaded.
The Gamecocks, however, did fight back to take the lead again. They scored twice in the top of the ninth, tying the game on a Wimmer homer to left, and taking the lead when Talmadge LeCroy scored from third on a throwing error to home by the pitcher.
So, despite all the travails, the Gamecocks went to the bottom of the ninth with a 12-11 lead and Becker on the mound. After getting the first two outs, Becker walked a batter on a 3-2 pitch and then gave up a walk-off two-run homer to Brett Minich on a 1-0 pitch.
The Gamecocks will try to salvage the final game of the series Sunday afternoon with Will Sanders on the mound.