If there is a glaring weakness in South Carolina baseball this season, it’s been the Gamecocks’ defense. USC entered its highly anticipated series at #4-Vanderbilt, next to last in the SEC, with a fielding percentage of .973. In most games that hasn’t been a problem as USC has overcome its shaky play in the field with an exceptional offense. Saturday wasn’t most games. The Commodores scored five unearned runs off of four Gamecock errors to claim an 8-5 victory over Carolina and even the weekend series at a game apiece. However, at the outset of game two, it appeared as though Vandy would play the role of the “Bad News Bears.”
Carolina (30-5/10-3) grabbed a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, chasing Vanderbilt starter Carter Holton before the end of the frame. With two outs, Cole Messina doubled in the first run of the contest before Michael Braswell plated two on a bases-loaded single to right field. Evan Stone drove in the final run of the inning, as he was hit by a pitch with the bases still full. It marked the 80th time this season that a Gamecock has been plunked while standing in the batter’s box.
From there, it was all Vanderbilt (28-7/12-2), as the Commodores scored eight straight runs and held the Gamecocks without a hit from the second inning until the seventh.
The turning point in the game occurred in the fifth, with the Gamecocks clinging to a 4-3 lead. Following a lead-off double and a walk, Carolina summoned Chris Veach out of its bullpen to relieve starter Jack Mahoney. Veach immediately threw a wild pitch to tie the game, and then came one of the strangest double plays you will perhaps ever see.
With one out and the bases full, RJ Austin lofted what appeared to be a grand slam over the fence in center field. However, Stone raced back and got a glove on the ball to make a spectacular catch. Enrique Bradfield Jr., tagged at third and trotted home with the go-ahead run, giving Vandy its first lead of the day at 5-4. However, after a review on the field, the play was overturned, and the Gamecocks were rewarded a double play after it was learned that Stone bobbled control of the ball against the wall, though it was thought to have been a catch. Bradfield was ruled to have left third base between the juggling act in the outfield, and as the ball was returned to third base, he was called out for leaving early. Therefore, the game remained tied at 4-4 going into the 6th inning. Or so most everyone thought.
Vandy added three insurance runs in the seventh, with the Gamecocks scoring their final tally on a Braylen Wimmer homer in the ninth. The blast made Wimmer the fifth Gamecock with 10 or more home runs this season. The two teams will wrap up their series Sunday afternoon at 2pm ET/1pm CT from Hawkins Field in Nashville, TN.