USC was staring at their first SEC loss of the season as they went to the bottom of the ninth trailing Missouri 8-5 Friday night at Founders Park. But then the Tigers blinked. USC rallied for four, two-out runs, scoring the winning run on a wild throw past third by the shortstop, to take a thrilling 9-8 victory.
Gavin Casas drew a leadoff walk for the Gamecocks in the ninth and advanced to second when Cole Messina hit a shot off the pitcher who was able to recover and go to first. Ethan Petry then struck out swinging, but the ball got past the catcher, and the Gamecocks had runners on the corners.
Carson Hornung struck out swinging for the second out, but Talmadge LeCroy was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Caleb Denny then drove in a pair by dropping a soft single into right center to make it an 8-7 game.
Mark Kingston, who relies heavily on analytics when making in-game decisions, decided to go with his gut feel and pinch hit righty Jonathan French to face the righthanded Missouri pitcher. French proved Kingston’s gut was right as he went the other way and hit a slow grounder to the right of the second baseman that made the grass before he could run it down. French beat the throw and LeCroy scored the tying run from third.
That brought Michael Braswell to the plate. Braswell went into the game as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth. Just as he did in the game one win at Georgia last weekend, he delivered the winning hit, but it never left the infield. Braswell lined a one-hopper to the left of the diving shortstop. Justin Colon was able to get to the ball and fire to third from his knees, but he threw wild and Denny rounded the bag and headed home with the winning run.
Early on it appeared it might be an easy night for the Gamecocks. They built a 5-2 lead with a grand slam by Will McGillis in the second inning and a solo homer by Ethan Petry in the third. With Will Sanders on the mound, the Gamecocks seemed to be in a good place. But Sanders could not beat the Mann. Luke Mann got him for a two-run homer in the third and a three-run shot in the fourth that ended his night.
Mann wasn’t finished. He hit his third homer of the night in the sixth off James Hicks to give the Tigers their first lead at 6-5. Missouri then added what they thought were two insurance runs off Matthew Becker in the eighth. All the while, the Gamecock bats were quiet. They had just two hits from the fourth through the eighth innings.
Lost in the joy of the victory for the Gamecocks was the injury to second baseball Will McGillis. He was hit by a pitch on the forearm in the fourth inning. He had X-Rays at the ballpark. After the game, Coach Mark Kingston said he wanted to reserve comment on the injury out of respect for McGillis and would release more information on Saturday morning.
The win allowed the Gamecocks to avoid their first losing streak of the season, and they improved to 21-2 overall and 4-0 in the SEC. Missouri is 17-4 and 3-1. Game two of the series will be Saturday afternoon at 4:00 PM.