South Carolina baseball had every reason to give up. Having missed golden opportunity after golden opportunity, staring down the wrong end of a sweep, the Gamecocks seemed fated to drop the series finale to Mississippi State on Sunday.
But with its back against the wall and its chances of hosting an NCAA tournament regional just barely hanging on, No. 19 USC found a way to claw back for a 4-3 walk-off win in 11 innings at Founders Park.
The weekend-salvaging victory was just two outs from never happening — the Gamecocks came up in the bottom of the ninth down 3-2, having struggled all game with leaving runners on base. Sophomore Colin Burgess led off with an infield single up the middle, and junior Wes Clarke followed with a single to left. With runners on first and second, pinch hitter Michael Robinson popped up what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt for the first out.
Pinch hitter Jeff Heinrich came to the rescue, though, bouncing a grounder down the right field line for an RBI double to tie the game. Heinrich then came up in the 11th inning with one out and looped a single to right field. Junior David Mendham followed with a double to the left-center field gap, and the throw home hit Heinrich in the back and ricocheted away, allowing him to score the game-winning run.
Mendham’s game-winning hit capped the scoring after he started it in the second inning with a two-run home run to right field, giving USC its first lead of the weekend.
Mississippi State got one run right back in the top of the third inning — freshman DH Kellum Clark hit an arching fly ball that caught a friendly breeze and hit off the top of the wall in the right field corner for a triple, then eventually came around to score on a sacrifice fly.
Junior Brett Kerry, who came on in the fourth inning in relief of starter Thomas Farr, went six innings and gave up just one earned run, a solo home run in the sixth inning to MSU’s Rowdey Jordan.
The Gamecocks, meanwhile, proceeded to put runners in scoring position in each of the next four innings but were unable to scratch a single run across. In the third, the bases were loaded with two outs. In the fourth and fifth, there were runners on first and second with one out.
By far USC’s best chance, however, came in the sixth, as a walk, hit batter and bunt single loaded the bases with no outs and the heart of the order coming up. No. 2 hitter Andrew Eyster flied out to shallow center and the runner couldn’t tag, and then catcher Colin Burgess worked a 3-2 count before grounding into a double play to end the threat.
All told, across those four opportunities, Carolina went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position and left nine on base.
As those offensive woes unfolded for USC, Mississippi State rallied to take the lead off a pair of solo home runs to right field, one from junior Tanner Allen in the fifth and one from senior Rowdey Jordan in the sixth.
NEXT USC BASEBALL GAME
Who: No. 19 South Carolina vs. Clemson
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Doug Kingsmore Stadium, Clemson, South Carolina
Watch: Streaming online on ACC Network Extra via WatchESPN