Founders Park: USC entered this weekend’s series against Auburn as the #1 team in the RPI and ranked as high as #2 in the polls, but it has been Auburn playing like the national contender this weekend and not the Gamecocks. For the second straight game, the Tigers hit USC’s starting pitcher hard in a 9-5 win to clinch the series. The Gamecocks will try to avoid the sweep Sunday afternoon with first pitch now set for 3:00 PM.
Friday night, USC’s #1 starter Will Sanders was tagged for eight earned runs spread out over six innings. Saturday, the Tigers posted six runs on the board, five of them earned, against Jack Mahoney in the first two innings, and the Gamecocks were forced to play catch up from there. They never could catch up.
The top of the first was a mess for Mahoney and the Gamecocks. After a leadoff double, Mahoney got the next two outs. Next followed a wild pitch, a walk and a hit batter to load the bases. Cole Foster then singled thru the left side for two runs, and a throwing error on the play by Caleb Denny allowed the runners to move up. Kason Howell brought those runners home with a single giving the Tigers four two-out runs in the inning.
Mahoney was then tagged for a pair of solo home runs in the second for a 6-0 Auburn lead. Jonathan French got a run back for the Gamecocks in the bottom of the inning with an RBI double.
Auburn built their lead to 8-1 with two runs in the fifth. The Gamecocks scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth on a Cole Messina double, and added two more runs in the seventh on a two-run homer by Messina. The Tigers added an insurance run in the ninth on a solo homer by Cooper McMurray, his second homer of the day.
The Gamecocks had other issues besides starting pitching on Saturday. They had six hits and drew six walks, so baserunners were there. But hitting with runners on base, as it was Friday night, was an issue. The Gamecocks were 3-14 in that category on Saturday making them 6-31 for the series.
Adding to those problems, the Gamecocks had baserunning blunders. They ran into a double play in the second inning when they had a chance to get back into the game. French was on second after an RBI double, and Denny was on third. Will Tippett hit a sharp one-hopper to first that led to Denny being tagged out in a rundown between home and third, and French the same between third and second.
In the sixth, Denny was on second with one out when French hit a sinking liner to center that was caught. The ball was fired into second and Denny was tagged out for a double play.
Mahoney took the loss to fall to 4-2. A bright spot was the three-inning outing by Cade Austin who allowed a hit and a run while striking out three.
The Gamecocks played without shortstop Braylen Wimmer who coach Mark Kingston said likely will be out at least two weeks with a hamstring issue. Michael Braswell played short, and Messina played third in the makeshift lineup. Regular third baseman Talmadge LeCroy did return Saturday as a pinch hitter.
The Gamecocks are now 34-8 and 13-6 in the SEC while the Tigers are 25-17-1 and 9-11 in the league. The Gamecocks dropped to #2 in the RPI behind Wake Forest and fell another game back of Vanderbilt in the SEC East.