For a few innings it looked like the late-inning magic was back for South Carolina.
Down three with six outs to go, the Gamecocks would mount a vicious come back to tie the game late only to have it erased thanks to a Clemson walk-off triple in the eighth to give the Tigers an 8-7 win Sunday.
It’s South Carolina’s fourth-straight series loss to Clemson and head coach Mark Kingston’s first loss in what was his introduction to the rivalry.
“The message I just gave the team is we’re obviously disappointed with the loss but we learned a lot about our team today,” Kingston said. “A lot of teams in this ballpark, falling behind 6-0 would not have done what we did. We learned a lot of good things today.”
The Gamecocks (7-5) would score seven of the game’s final nine runs, rallying from a 6-0 deficit to tie the game at seven entering the bottom of the ninth.
After the first two runners of the inning reached, LT Tolbert blasted a one-out double to right-center to plate a run before Chris Cullen tied the game on a sacrifice fly.
It would be undone in the bottom half of the inning after Carmen Mlodzinski gave up a one-out walk and then the game-winning RBI double a batter later, a 2-2 pitch to Drew Wharton.
“We always talked about getting in on their hitters,” Mlodzinski said. “They see fastballs away and they hit them. I tried to go in and just left it over the plate.”
Clemson jumped on freshman starter John Gilreath early tagging him for six runs over 3.2 innings.
Sunday was the lefty’s first-career weekend start, and he’d get chased in the fourth inning after giving up six earned runs and striking out five.
Clemson would pick up two in the third but scored three in the fourth thanks, in part, to a Patrick Cromwell two-out, two-run single.
“Gilreath was solid,” Kingston said. “He left a couple balls up there and wasn’t quite ahead of hitters like he had been. It was a good learning experience for him, but something to build on.”
After giving up a season-high walks Saturday, the staff gave up seven free passes in the rubber match. Gamecock pitchers would have six wild pitches Sunday, four from Gilreath.
Of the eight runs Clemson scored, three were unearned.
“We just need to play a little bit cleaner baseball,” Kingston said. “We do that and I think we win the ballgame.”
The game-tying rally was started in the fourth with TJ Hopkins smashing a three-run homer over the wall in left field to make it a three-run game.
It was his first of the season and he finished going 2-for-4 with three RBI.
“TJ is a developing player. He’s not a finished product,” Kingston said. “He has his moments where he really shines and at times he gets a little anxious at the plate and gets out ahead of the breaking ball a little bit. IT’s a matter of him continuing to getting better and he will.”
The Gamecocks have lost four of their last five games and will try to build off a disappointing loss Sunday, but Tolbert said he’s not worried with Kingston leading the charge.
“There’s never a doubt in our mind or lack of confidence and that starts with Coach Kingston,” he said. “We’re going to be fine.”
Player of the game: TJ Hopkins would start the rally, hitting his first home run of the season and notching his fourth RBI of the weekend.
Pivotal play: With one out in the ninth, Mlodzinski would walk Robert Jolly to put the winning run on base and then give up the walk-off double.
Up next: South Carolina will travel to Charlotte Tuesday for a neutral site game at BB&T Ballpark against Appalachian State. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.