COLUMBIA -- South Carolina entered Friday’s clash with Vanderbilt in dire need of a victory. Seeking their first series opening win since March, the Gamecocks sent freshman Daniel Lloyd to the mound.
Lloyd, 3-3 with a 7.43 ERA coming into Friday’s game, was called upon following the news of T.J. Shook’s arm injury, making an already thin pitching staff even thinner.
Against a high-powered Vanderbilt offense, it wasn’t a position the Gamecocks wanted to be in, and early it looked as if it would be another tough Friday night. South Carolina jumped out to a quick lead, but walks and some timely Commodore hitting were too much for the Gamecocks to overcome in a 22-11 loss.
Lloyd allowed a leadoff double to Austin Martin and the Gamecocks were quickly behind following an RBI groundout from No. 3 hitter Ethan Paul. Lloyd then allowed a single and a walk before striking out Stephen Scott to escape the jam.
From the start, a slumping Gamecock offense looked different. Noah Campbell led off the frame with a single up the middle and a bobbled ball on what could have been a double play put two on. T.J. Hopkins, hitting under .250 on balls put in play in SEC play — an indication that he has been unlucky — came up and the Gamecocks caught another break. Hopkins hit a flare into shallow center field that found the grass, bringing in Campbell to score.
The Gamecocks would get two more in the frame, one on an RBI single from Luke Berryhill and another on George Callil’s bases loaded walk.
The Gamecocks added two more in the second on a long two-run home run by Luke Berryhill. It looked early as though the Gamecocks’ Friday night struggles could come to an end.
Then the fourth inning hit.
With the Gamecocks down to 10 healthy pitchers, Lloyd came out in the fourth inning, something he hasn’t had to do much this year. After a leadoff walk, he struck out No. 5 hitter Harrison Ray. As the pitch count climbed, the control waned. Lloyd allowed the next four batters to reach, three via single and one on a hit-by-pitch before being pulled for Dylan Harley with a 5-3 lead and runners on.
Harley, facing the top of Vanderbilt lineup, didn’t get off the the fastest start. A two-run double and home run later, and the Gamecocks were behind 8-5. Harley picked up back-to-back strikeouts, but the damage was done.
But on a night when the Gamecock offense was anything but ordinary, South Carolina fought right back. Campbell walked and Hopkins picked up a soft double, his third hit of the day, putting two in scoring position for Berryhill. But this time, it was Jacob Olson with the heroics. A two-out, 3-run homerun tied the score at eight and reinvigorated the crowd.
But the fourth inning wouldn’t be the worst of the night for the short-handed Gamecock pitching staff.
After a lengthy delay due to an injury to home plate umpire Michael Banks, things imploded. Harley walked two and hit another to load the bases before Cole Ganopulos came on in relief and walked a pair to go along with a two-run double. Gage Hinson relieved Ganopulos and allowed six more runs to score on four hits and another walk. In total, the 9-run inning lasted 49 minutes and Gamecock pitchers issued five walks and allowed five hits, throwing 74 pitches, half of which were balls.
South Carolina couldn’t figure out reliever Ethan Smith, who struck out six of the first seven batters he faced. After putting up eight runs in less than four innings against starter Drake Fellows, the Gamecock offense went quiet, mustering just four hits over the next 5-plus innings.
The Commodores tacked on five more in the seventh on a bases loaded walk and grand slam, nearly making it six but for a leaping catch at the wall to rob Austin Martin of his fourth RBI of the night.
If there is anything positive to take away for the Gamecocks, it’s that the middle of the order produced. Hopkins, Berryhill and Olson combined to go 7-11 with nine RBIs. For South Carolina to have any shot at ending the season on a positive note, Olson and Hopkins, each hitting under .200 in SEC play, will have to get going.
The loss drops the Gamecocks to 5-17 in SEC play, tied for 12th after Kentucky and Alabama also lost Friday.
The Gamecocks return to action Saturday at 8:00 against the Commodores. Reid Morgan (3-4, 3.63 ERA) will take the hill against freshman righty Kumar Rocker (5-4, 4.31 ERA), seeking to help the Gamecocks avoid an eighth-straight series loss.