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Gamecocks Drop Game Two to Wolfpack


After a wild game Friday night where South Carolina frankly had no business winning, grounding into 4 double plays and committing 4 errors, the emotions coming into Saturday night’s winners bracket game alone would be enough pressure to cause any team to buckle without any added pressure.

 

Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, there were 2 other obstacles they had to overcome if they wanted to win this game and put themselves in the driver’s seat to advance to super regionals.

 

A soap opera unfolded before the game. In Friday’s 8-7 walkoff win over James Madison in the regional opener, Carolina star First Baseman Ethan Petry was hit on the pinky in the bottom of the third inning. The initial word from Mark Kingston was that he was okay, and for what it is worth, Petry did finish the game out, going 1 for his last 3 with a single. But, as is so often the case with minor injuries in baseball, you can be fine in the immediate aftermath and wake up the next day so sore you can’t move the affected area. While in the moment we did not know if that was the case with Ethan, he arrived at the yard Saturday afternoon with his hand wrapped up.

 

The drama only got more intense as all of the writers and reporters crammed into the first row of pressbox began to look for any clue they could dig up as to whether or not he would play. As the pregame warmups progressed, it was reported that Cole Messina, who has played in 3 games this season as first baseman (in which the Gamecocks went 3-0), was taking reps there. Minutes later, it was noted that Dalton Reeves was in the bullpen dressed out in full catcher’s gear and that Ethan Petry was not even dressed out in the dugout.

 

But wait.. There’s more. When the lineup was posted to the pressbox live stat feed, Petry appeared in the lineup as the first baseman. Moments later, the paper copies were brought in and the word was given that it was being changed and he was not in, but would dress out with no replacement named. In the end, the lineup had Kennedy Jones at DH, Cole Messina at first, and Dalton Reeves behind the plate. Dylan Brewer was also given a start in left field in place of Jones.

 

Later on, it was revealed on the TV broadcast by Mark Kingston that Petry suffered a hairline fracture in the top of his pinky that would need further assessment to see how to deal with it going forward.

 

“It was not possible he could play tonight. He has a hairline fracture right above his pinky and did not feel like he was able to hold or swing the bat at a level that would allow him to hit. It was a matter of getting an X-Ray and deciding if there was any treatment possible to get him closer to being ready to play. After going through that whole process, it was not possible for him to be ready. We will re-evaluate in the morning”, said Kingston of the final pregame verdict.

 

But, aside from the drama surrounding Ethan Petry’s unfortunately-timed injury, the Gamecocks would have to limit an NC State offense that has shown the propensity to mash the ball in a hostile environment that was sure to be vastly pro-Wolfpack.

 

The Wolfpack got plenty to roar about early as the Gamecocks went down in order in the top of the first and Garrett Gainey surrendered an absolute rocket of a no-doubt solo shot to first baseman Garrett Pennington – the first of 2 with both coming in his first 2 plate appearances. In the interim between Pennington’s blasts, the Gamecock faithful got something to crow about as Will Tippett launched his 2nd home run in as many days – at the time tying the game in the top of the 3rd.

 

Carolina managed to pull it back to a 1-run game in the top of the fifth on the first of 2 big home runs from an unlikely hero – Dylan Brewer.

 

“I was told to be ready just in case something was wrong with him {Petry}. I found out 20 minutes before the game that he was hurt. I was just happy to be out there. This is my fifth year. I want to win. And I love playing with this group of guys”, said Brewer.

 

To the groaning chagrin of anyone in the standing-room only crowd supporting the Gamecocks, another negative trend continued as Garrett Gainey gave the run right back on a leadoff solo shot to right by NC State Center Fielder Eli Serrano in the ensuing half inning.

 

Another trend that is not at all a positive from this game continued over the next 2 frames. In the 6th after a leadoff walk to Blake Jackson and a single from Cole Messina, Kennedy Jones lined hard to short, caught on a running reach above his head by Mason Dunaway. Blake Jackson was doubled off at 2nd on the play to log South Carolina’s 6th instance of killing a rally with a double play of the weekend. Deja vu happened in the Gamecock 7th after Dylan Brewer once again tied the game with a 2 run homer out of right with 1 out. Following the equal parts crowd-quieting and crowd-energizing blast, Will Tippett drew a walk before eventually being erased on the 7th double kill of the regional – a 6-4-3 off the bat of Austin Brinling.

 

Once again the Wolfpack reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the frame after Mark Kingston opted to bring Connor McCreery in to relieve Garrett Gainey in the bottom of the 7th. He gave up a leadoff single to Serrano and walked Garrett Pennington before getting a fly ball that was mere feet away from being the dagger in the form of a three run blast for the first out. That ended the day for McCreery, turning things over to Matthew Becker, who promptly walked his first batter to load the bases. The second out of the frame came on a line drive to short from Jacob Cozart, but in the end, Becker failed to get out of the jam, walking Alex Sosa on a 3-1 count to force in the go-ahead run and inciting a piercing chorus of “Let’s Go Wolfpack!” from the fans in red and white.

 

That run would end up being all Elliott Avent’s squad would need, but they made sure to create some insurance that would come in a painful way. South Carolina had played one of their best defensive games in what feels like over a month up to the point where in the bottom of the 8th, Avent sent his 2 runners on a double steal. Dalton Reeves pump faked a throw to 2nd to bait the runner breaking from third and had him dead in the right.. Until his throw took a bee line right for the back of the runner’s head, ricocheting all the way to the tarp cylinder to plate a run – the lone error of the night for the Gamecocks.

 

In the end, South Carolina’s bats had no answer for Derrick Smith’s slider. He came in to relieve Cooper Consiglio with 1 out in the top of the 8th. Combined with Consiglio, all three Gamecocks struck out in the frame. The Ninth started off with some promise thanks to a leadoff single from Dalton Reeves, but Pinch Hitter Tyler Causey and Parker Noland struck out swinging back to back, leaving the game in the hands of Dylan Brewer. Unfortunately, there would be no heroic ending for him this time as he popped up to the catcher in foul ground to end it, knocking South Carolina to the elimination bracket.

 

“We played great defense tonight. I want to say how unselfish Cole Messina is that he was willing to go play first. I was really impressed with the way Reeves caught tonight. We had guys all over the place tonight. How could you not commend what Dylan Brewer did tonight? We have a bunch of team guys that love playing together. I am very disappointed in the loss tonight, but I can go to sleep knowing those guys were unselfish and gave it everything they had”, said Kingston following the loss.

 

The Gamecocks are now in territory that is not at all unfamiliar in Mark Kingston’s tenure. They must win three games in two days in order to advance to the Super Regionals, including having to win twice tomorrow just to force a winner-take-all game 7 on Monday. But, even with the unfavorable result, there are always good things to highlight.

 

If there is any major bright side to be found, it is in two facts. Garrett Gainey pitched 6 innings in what ended up being a no-decision for him. That outing, which was one of the longest by a Gamecock starter recently, helped to conserve the pitching.

 

“They are a good fastball hitting team. Pitches got left over the zone and I didn’t execute. It wasn’t a terrible outing, but not my best of the year. I feel like I can improve and hit my spots a little better, but I gave us a chance to win”, said Gainey regarding his work on the bump.

 

Despite the no decision and the tough loss the team suffered, thanks to his grinding through it, South Carolina will have Parker Marlatt, Tyler Pitzer, and Dylan Eskew available (who will likely start Sunday’s elimination bracket final). Another couple of pluses for Carolina are that they will face a James Madison team that has had to use 8 pitchers in 2 days in order to stay alive, meaning their best arms may not be available. Lastly, Garrett Gainey indicated that he is ready and willing to give more innings.

 

“This is my last year and my last go at it. I am gonna give the team everything I’ve got in order for us to win. I feel like we’re going to be all hands on deck and we are going to get it done. We are going to believe in that and we are going to get it done and you should, too”, said Gainey with full confidence.

 

For a team that is relying heavily on offense and needs all the confidence it can get after losing one of their best hitters and letting the game get away from them late, that has to be an encouraging thought for the Gamecocks as they will now have to battle every out with their season on the line.

The Gamecocks’ quest to get to a regional final for the second consecutive year begins tomorrow morning with first pitch set for noon.

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