South Carolina baseball’s impressive offensive start to the season met an immovable object Friday night at Founders Park — Georgia pitcher Emerson Hancock.
No. 22 USC tied a season-low with five hits and set a season-high with 15 strikeouts against the No. 8 Bulldogs, dropping the opener of its first SEC series of the year, 6-1.
Freshman left-fielder Brady Allen was responsible for the only run the Gamecocks (14-4, 0-1 SEC) scored all day, crushing an solo home run in the bottom of the third .
“He was throwing a bunch of first pitch fastballs, so I was like, I’m deep in the lineup, so if I see that fastball, I just got to put the barrel on it and let the velocity become the power,” Allen said of the long ball, his third of the year
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But beyond that, South Carolina and Allen struggled to touch Hancock — the Bulldogs’ ace hit 98 miles per hour with his fastball and improved to 5-0 on the season, pitching seven innings, striking out 12 and walking just two.
“He’s definitely the best pitcher I’ve ever seen,” Allen, who finished the game 1-for-3 with two strikeouts, said. “ ... Good velocity, good stuff, good control and good stamina.”
“Sometimes you need to tip your cap. I would have liked to have seen us battle a little bit more. I thought we battled some. There were a couple spots there where I thought we didn’t need to strike out where we did, but sometimes you need to say that guy was pretty good,” coach Mark Kingston said of Hancock.
For Carolina, freshman starter Wesley Sweatt posted a solid performance through five innings — outside of a two-run home run he gave up to designated hitter John Cable in the second inning, he was efficient and effective, needing just 64 pitches.
“I feel like I was able to maintain my composure pretty well. When something bad happens, well, you’re facing great hitters. You’re going to give up home runs. You just have to respond to that, and for the most part I feel like was capable of doing that,” Sweatt said.
In the sixth inning, however, Sweatt ran into trouble — a throwing error from shortstop George Callil against the leadoff hitter put him in a hole early, and then he gave up a hard-hit single and a triple to plate two runs. Pitching coach Skylar Meade then pulled him for sophomore reliever John Gilreath.
“For a freshman on an SEC Friday night, going against a guy throwing 98 miles an hour, I thought he represented himself very well,” Kingston said of Sweatt.
Gilreath gave up a sacrifice fly to tag Sweatt with a fourth earned run, then walked two batters and gave up a double to allow Georgia’s fourth run of the inning and final score of the day.
Sophomore right fielder Andrew Eyster led off the bottom of the sixth with a double, but he was stranded there. The Gamecocks did not get another runner in scoring position the rest of the night.
“After he got through the order one time, he was throwing a lot of fastballs to begin with, but he started mixing his pitches really well, Eyster said of Hancock.
Next: South Carolina and Georgia play the middle game of their series on Saturday at Founders Park. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Softball: South Carolina opened its second SEC series of the season with a 3-2 loss to Arkansas on the road.