The No. 1 Texas Longhorns lost the opening game of the Sunday doubleheader against the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia due in large part to a strong performance by Gamecock starter Will Sanders, combined with some tough luck on the defensive side.
It was the first loss for Texas to South Carolina in eight games against the Gamecocks and broke a five-game losing streak for head coach Mark Kingston’s team.
Left fielder Eric Kennedy started the day right for Texas with a solo home run on the second at bat of the day, but Texas pitcher Tristan Stevens struggled in the bottom of the frame as South Carolina loaded the bases with no out. A fielder’s choice and a tailor-made double play ball limited the damage to one run, but it would turn out to be the end of the only Texas lead of the game.
In the second, shortstop Trey Faltine was hit by a pitch with two out and stole second but was left there after a strikeout by right fielder Dylan Campbell. Stevens settled in and took the Gamecocks down 1-2-3, and center fielder Douglas Hodo III seemed to keep the momentum moving toward the Horns with a leadoff double off the left field wall in the third. But Texas’ two, three, and four hitters couldn’t even advance him to third. Stevens again got put South Carolina down in order, but Texas went down without a base runner for the only time all game in the fourth.
The bottom of the fourth illustrated how random baseball can be. Stevens started the inning by inducing a soft grounder to short and a weak pop up to shallow right. But instead of none on and two out, found himself facing the opposite as the ground ball was hit too slowly for Faltine to make a play, and the pop up was just out of second baseman Mitchell Daly’s reach. A walk and a sac fly later, and South Carolina had the lead again.
The first and only well-hit ball of the inning was Carson Hornung’s line drive to center that went for a second straight sac fly. After Stevens ended the inning with a strikeout, the good news for Texas was that South Carolina had loaded the bases with nobody out twice in the first four innings, yet had converted that advantage into only three runs.
Continuing the snakebit trend, in the top of the fifth Faltine opened things up by absolutely smashing a line drive that ended up in the mitt of third baseman Kevin Madden for a loud out. After a Campbell single, Hodo hit a sharp grounder between third and shortstop on which Madden made a spectacular diving play to get Hodo at first. Kennedy and Melendez then drew back-to-back walks to create a two-out threat for Texas. Silas Ardoin drew a third straight walk, this one on five pitches, to get the Longhorns back within one.
Kingston showed confidence in Sanders by leaving him out there, and the sophomore rewarded his coach’s belief by striking out the still-struggling Daly. So the optimist says Texas created a run out of nothing, while the pessimist laments three more Horns left on base.
Through half the contest, it was “one of those games” for the Longhorns, where they were playing just fine but couldn’t get a bounce. Not much would change the rest of the way. The bottom of the fifth saw Stevens’ uncharacteristically shaky outing come to an end. With two out and a man on second (there because a hit-and-run avoided a potential double play), Braylen Wimmer hit a single up the middle to extend the Gamecock lead to 4-2. That led David Pierce to turn to sophomore right-hander Jared Southard, who ended the inning on a 1-2 flyout to right.
Texas again stranded a runner in the top of the sixth, leaving the Longhorns with only three outs left in the seven-inning opener to the double-header. The Gamecocks went quietly in the bottom of the sixth, setting up Texas’ last chance with the top of the order coming up.
South Carolina turned to freshman two-way player and starting shortstop Michael Braswell to get the save. He started by hitting Hodo with a two-strike count, bringing the tying run to the plate with nobody out. After Hodo advanced to second on a balk, Kennedy pool-cued a comebacker to Braswell for the first out. Ivan Melendez flew out easily to left, leaving it up to Silas Ardoin. The Texas catcher continued the theme of the afternoon, crushing a ground ball that happened to find its way directly to third base for the final out.
The rubber game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Central on SECN+.