Mark Kingston after USC’s series-opening loss to A&M: We’ve taken a lot of body blows
Cruising along early against a top-10 opponent, South Carolina baseball and starter Reid Morgan saw the bottom drop out on them in a hurry Thursday night, as the Gamecocks fell 8-2 to No. 7 Texas A&M.
Through six innings at Founders Park, USC (22-16, 4-12 SEC) was riding opportunistic hitting and another strong outing from the junior pitcher to a potential upset. Then the Aggies (28-11-1, 10-5-1 SEC) roared to life in the top of the seventh frame, tallying seven runs punctuated by a grand slam to put the contest out of reach.
Entering the inning at just 74 pitches, Morgan ran into trouble right away, giving up a hard-hit single to sophomore center fielder Zach DeLoach. A sacrifice bunt moved him to second, and a double in the gap from sophomore catcher Aaron Walters scored him. Freshman Hunter Watson then flared a soft single to right field that scored the go-ahead run.
“They had a bunch of lefties up there, and he kept throwing balls over the middle of the plate. Bottom line is his location was really good most of the night and then in that seventh inning, all of a sudden everything was really finding the middle of the plate, hit after hit,” coach Mark Kingston said.
Morgan was pulled for sophomore John Gilreath, but junior second baseman Bryce Blaum still connected for a single to score another run. Gilreath then loaded the bases by walking the next two batters, one intentionally, before serving up a first-pitch offering that junior right field Logan Foster crushed over the left field wall.
Before that one frame, Morgan was lights-out for the Gamecocks, striking out seven while walking one and allowing five hits in the game’s first six innings. Texas A&M’s only other run of the night came in the second after DeLoach ripped a double, advanced to third on an error by freshman left fielder Brady Allen and scored on an RBI single for an unearned run.
“My confidence was up (early). ... I gotta be better at competing later in the game,” Morgan said.
South Carolina’s offense, meanwhile, scratched out two runs in the third against Aggies junior ace John Doxakis. Senior first baseman Chris Cullen led things off with a bloop single to right field, and after two strikeouts and a wild pitch, junior shortstop George Callil connected on a single to right, scoring Cullen. That was followed by a single down the right field line from senior center fielder TJ Hopkins to score Callil.
The Gamecocks then loaded the bases with a walk and error, but a groundout ended the threat, and Doxakis recovered to finish with a quality outing of 6 1/3 innings, eight strikeouts, four hits and two walks.
“We had a really good inning going there, (sophomore outfielder Andrew) Eyster came up with the bases loaded and a 3-0 count and you felt really good about the momentum of the game at that point, and it ended with a groundout and kinda took a little bit of steam out of us,” Kingston said. “Still had six innings to play at that point, but them getting out of that and minimizing the damage was something that ended up being very positive for them.
Over those final six innings, South Carolina managed just two baserunners en route to its sixth consecutive series-opening loss in conference play.
“It’s difficult. It’s like a fight, you’re getting hit and getting hit and getting hit, and it’s hard to get up. Just gotta keep pushing. We gotta stay confident and stay within our program,” Morgan said.
Next: The Gamecocks and Aggies return for Game 2 of their series on Friday at 7 p.m. The contest will be streamed online on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN.