If the SEC decides to relocate its baseball tournament to another city next year, USC gladly would volunteer to drive the moving van out of Hoover. With their 4-1 loss to Texas A&M in an elimination game Thursday, the Gamecocks suffered their 8th straight SEC Tournament loss in the Birmingham suburb. And they face the long ride back to Columbia knowing their projected status as a top 8 national seed for the NCAA Tournament is in peril.
USC actually played better than in Wednesday’s 10-4 loss to Ole Miss in which it committed five errors. Braden Webb (10-5) pitched well for 6.2 innings holding the hard hitting Aggies to six hits and three runs while striking out eight. But he got no run support.
The Gamecocks, who had just five hits, were only 3-14 with runners on base and 0-6 with runners in scoring position. And to cap their frustration at the plate, the game’s final out came when Aggie rightfielder Nick Banks leaped at the fence and denied TL Tolbert of a home run.
A&M scored all the runs it would need in the second with three straight hits that scored a run. Banks had a RBI single to left. Michael Barash then drove him home with a double in the gap in left center. And Jonathan Moroney capped the rally with a single to right.
The Gamecocks scored their lone run in the third on a perfectly executed hit and run by Marcus Mooney. Gene Cone was on first and was bound for third but Banks overran the ball in right and Cone was able to continue home on the error.
The Gamecocks threatened in the sixth with one out singles by Jonah Bride and Madison Stokes. But pinch-hitter TJ Hopkins flied to right and Chris Cullen grounded to short to end the inning. And in the seventh with one out, Cone singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch. But Marcus Mooney hit a grounder to short for the second out and Alex Destino struck out looking to end the inning.
That was the last of 112 pitches by Aggie starter and winner Brigham Hill (8-1). Mitchell Kilkenny set the Gamecocks down in order in the eighth and Mark Ecker did likewise in the ninth. Ecker earned his fifth save.
The Gamecocks return to Columbia for the fourth straight season without a victory in the SEC Tournament. Their overall record in the event is now 25-44 and head coach Chad Holbrook is still looking for his first win in the tournament.
Still, the Gamecocks are 42-15 with 20 SEC wins to their credit and a division championship. They are a lock to host a regional next weekend but certainly no cinch to win it based on their lost 48 hours in Hoover.
(Chad Holbrook, Braden Webb, Gene Cone)