For the most part, it’s been a season to forget so far for Sawyer Bridges.
The Gamecocks closer, who was named in the preseason Stopper of the Year watch list for the best reliever in the country, has struggled to put games away lately, especially in SEC play.
He did it again Sunday, allowing four runs to score late in a 6-3 loss to Tennessee and gave a guarantee to his teammates postgame.
“I’m going to tell them it’s not going to happen again,” he said. “I’m supposed to be one of the guys they can trust and they haven’t been able to trust me. They’re going to going forward. That’s a guarantee. I got to get the job done no matter the situation.”
Bridges came into a bases-loaded, no-out jam with the Gamecocks (16-8, 1-5 SEC) clinging to a one-run lead in the eighth inning and needing to get out of it unscathed to preserve their lead.
He got the first batter to do almost exactly what he wanted — bounce out to the mound creating an easy force out at home. But the ball held up a little too long and went just over Bridges’ outstretched glove and got down to plate the tying run.
It’s a play Bridges said he usually makes during practice and he “got a good jump on it.” But on a turf field, the ball took a slightly higher bounce than normal.
“That ball bounced over his head on the turf,” Mark Kingston said. “On a grass field, a dirt field that ball probably bounces to him and he throws home and who knows, but we played on turf and that wasn’t the case.”
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After that, the junior gave up a two-run single that gave Tennessee the lead and a sacrifice fly after that as the Gamecocks lost by three runs. It also happened a day after freshman Brett Kerry pitched out of a similar jam in the eighth inning Saturday in a 3-2 win.
Bridges came into an eerily similar situation last Sunday against Georgia. Clinging to a one run lead in the ninth, Bridges allowed both inherited runners to score and gave up a run of his own as the Gamecocks lost that game 4-2.
Through 24 games, Bridges has a 5.91 ERA with his last save coming Feb. 19 against Winthrop. In two SEC outings, he has a 10.80 ERA.
“You create your own luck. I’ve blown a lot of games. It’s going to end. It’s not going to happen the rest of the year. It’s not going to happen,” he said. “That goes for everybody. If a freshman can do it, then I can do it. It’s just not acceptable and it’s not going to happen again.”
The Gamecocks are razor-thin with depth in their bullpen with three pitchers out to Tommy John surgery, Carmen Mlodzinski out with a broken foot, Ridge Chapman out with a forearm strain and Hayden Lehman not making the trip this weekend with arm tenderness.
Kingston said bullpen depth was “the difference in the ballgame,” and he wants to see more guys rise to the occasion when their number is called.
“Guys just need to step up. When guys get opportunities they need to take advantage, as simple as that.”