USC Blows Late Lead, Miss St. Takes Opener

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By Sports Department

STARKVILLE, MISS. (USC SID) -- After 12th ranked South Carolina built a 4-1 lead, 16th ranked Mississippi State struck with four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning including a two-out bases loaded walk to Brett Pirtle that scored Nick Ammirati as the Bulldogs defeated the Gamecocks 5-4 on Thursday night in a game one of a three-game SEC series. The Gamecocks are now 38-15 and 16-11 in the SEC with Mississippi State 39-15 and 15-13 in league play.

With Carolina ahead 4-1 entering the bottom of the eighth inning, the Bulldogs mounted a rally beginning with a leadoff homer by Wes Rea to cut the Gamecocks lead to a pair of runs. South Carolina went to the bullpen with left-hander Tyler Webb to replace Adam Westmoreland. C.T. Bradford reached base with his third hit of the game on an infield single that Gamecock third baseman Chase Vergason dove for, but he was unable to get his throw in time to first giving MSU a base runner. With one out and Bradford still on first, Demarcus Henderson set down a perfect bunt down the first base line putting runners on first and second base. After fouling off a pair of 0-2 pitches, Nick Ammirati lifted a RBI base hit into left-center scoring Bradford and cutting the Gamecock lead to one run. Adam Frazier, also down to an 0-2 count, knocked a RBI base hit up the middle and past a diving Joey Pankake at short scoring Henderson and tying the game. Webb retired Detz with a flyout to left for the second out of the inning. After a wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position, the Gamecocks elected to intentionally walk Hunter Renfroe to face Brett Pirtle. A rare walk from Webb to Pirtle allowed Ammirati to score and give MSU a 5-4 lead. Despite a leadoff walk to Max Schrock in the top of the ninth inning, MSU closer Jonathan Holder retired the next three batters he faced to give the Bulldogs a one-run victory.

MSU reliever Chad Girodo earned the win and is 6-1 on the year. He pitched one scoreless inning of relief with two strikeouts and a walk. Holder’s one perfect inning gave him his 15th save of the year. Webb suffered the loss and is now 2-2 on the year. He allowed three runs on four hits in one inning with two walks.

“(Webb ) is our guy,” said South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook. “We are going to win or lose a game with him. I can sleep at night. He’s been our best guy all year, give (Mississippi State) credit, they had 14 hits we had seven hits. They doubled us up and their at bats were more competitive through the whole game.”

Brison Celek led Carolina at the plate with a 2-for-3 game including a run scored. Pankake drove in a pair of runs as well. MSU’s 14-hit game featured three hits from Bradford, Henderson and Ammirati.
South Carolina broke ahead 2-0 in the top of the first inning. Graham Saiko led off the game with a walk on four pitches and advanced to second on Chase Vergason’s single to left field. Both runners would score on a RBI double to the gap in left-center courtesy of Joey Pankake. The double was Pankake’s seventh of the season.

The Bulldogs cut Carolina’s lead in half with a run in the bottom of the third. Nick Ammirati led off with a base hit and Alex Detz drew a one-out walk to put a pair of runners on base. With two outs, Ammirati would score on Brett Pirtle’s RBI base hit to right field. Belcher limited the threat though as he nabbed Detz at second base on a pickoff to keep the Gamecocks ahead 2-1.

South Carolina struck for two more in the fifth inning to increase the lead to 4-1 and knocked Pollorena from the game in the process. Brison Celek got things started with a one-out double to right-center. With two outs and Celek still on second base, Tanner English launched a ground rule double into left-center scoring Celek. Saiko then kept things going with a RBI single to left field scoring English and ending the day for Pollorena.

South Carolina starter Nolan Belcher worked 6.1 innings and allowed one run on nine hits with four strikeouts and three walks. MSU starter Luis Pollorena allowed four runs on five hits in 5.2 innings of work with a walk and a strikeout.

Mississippi State threatened in the bottom of the seventh loading the bases with one out. Ammirati singled, followed by a walk to Adam Frazier. After Adam Westmoreland entered with runners on first and second, Alex Detz walked on four pitches to make the bags full. Westmoreland dug deep though as he got ahead of three-hole hitter Hunter Renfroe with a pair of strikes. On a 2-2 pitch, Westmoreland retired Renfroe with a called third strike. He then got out of the inning with a fielder’s choice to keep the Gamecocks in front by three runs.

“Striking Renfroe out, I thought we had a little momentum on our side but give them credit they bounced back,” said Holbrook. “Their backs were against the wall and they didn’t stop playing.”

The series continues on Friday with the second game of the series scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. The game can be heard on the Gamecock Radio Network from IMG College including flagship station, 107.5 FM, “The Game.”

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