Facing elimination: South Carolina baseball drops NCAA regional game to NC State

On a night the ball was flying out of Doak Field at Dail Park, the difference for South Carolina came down to the ability to throw strikes in a key stretch.

Now the Gamecocks are faced with the daunting task of winning three baseball games in two days in order to extend their season past the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

The No. 2 seed Gamecocks dropped a 6-4 decision Saturday night to No. 1 North Carolina State in the winner’s bracket game in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,036. Each team hit three home runs, but a bases-loaded walk by Matthew Becker forced in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning.

Now the Gamecocks’ backs are against the wall.

“We played five games in five days last week so it’s not impossible, as I told the guys,” USC coach Mark Kingston said. “It’s going to be tougher now and it’s going to be a longer road, but it doesn’t mean we can’t do it. Teams have done this.”

South Carolina (37-24) will play James Madison on Sunday at noon (ESPNU) in an elimination contest. The winner of that game faces the Wolfpack (35-20) at 6 p.m. Sunday.

The winner of the early elimination game will have to beat N.C. State twice — once on Sunday and again Monday — while the Wolfpack will only need one more win to advance to the super regional round. James Madison eliminated Bryant 8-1 earlier on Saturday.

Kingston wasn’t ready to name a starting pitcher for the next game but said it’s likely to be Dylan Eskew. Saturday’s starter Garrett Gainey threw 87 pitches but said he could come back if needed.

The challenge of getting through three games will be difficult. So far this weekend, the Gamecocks have used six pitchers: Eli Jones (70 pitches), Ty Good (31) and Chris Veach (73) on Friday, and Gainey (87), McCreery (13 ) and Becker (31 ) on Saturday.

Gainey went as far to say he expected to still be playing on Monday.

“This is my last year, my last go at it,” he said. “I’m going to give the team everything I’ve got in order for us to win. I feel like we’re going to be all-hands-on-deck and we’re going to get it done. We’re going to believe in that.”

Up until the pivotal moment in the seventh, all runs came via the long ball. Dylan Brewer, forced into action due to a hairline fracture to Ethan Petry’s left hand, responded with two home runs, his fifth and sixth of the year. Brewer hadn’t started since April 26 and his most recent home run before Saturday came on March 30.

Brewer had a solo shot in the fifth inning and a two-run blast in the seventh inning, tying the game each time. Will Tippett homered for the second day in a row in a seven-hit effort by the Gamecocks.

The Wolfpack countered in the same manner. Garrett Pennington homered twice, one solo shot and the other a two-run blast. Eli Serrano added a solo home run, and the game was tied at four at the seventh-inning stretch.

Gainey allowed all three home runs but otherwise pitched well for six innings. He allowed four runs on six hits with four strikeouts and two walks.

“The pitches just got left over the zone,” Gainey said. “They’re a good fastball-hitting team. I didn’t execute and the results show. I feel like it wasn’t a terrible outing but wasn’t the best of the year.”

Pennington said N.C. State had a plan against Gainey.

“We were going to dismantle fastballs,” Pennington said. “That was the scouting report the coaches worked hard on, and we said if we get his fastball, we’ll be all right. That was the plan and we executed and did our jobs.”

Connor McCreery relieved in the seventh and the strike zone was hard to find. McCreery allowed a single and a walk before getting a long fly ball out to the warning track to end his inning after three batters.

Becker then walked two, the last being Alex Sosa with two outs, to force in the go-ahead run. N.C. State added an insurance run in the eighth. Matt Heavner had a bunt single, moved to second on a sacrifice and third on a ground out. The Gamecocks had him picked off third, but the throw hit him in the helmet and got away, allowing him to score.

Ethan Petry update

Here’s what Kingston said about Petry’s hand injury:

“It was not possible he could play tonight. He’s got a hairline fracture right above his pinky. He’s not able to feel like he can swing the bat at a level to allow him to play. We will wake up (Sunday) and re-evaluate, but he was not ready to go tonight.

“It was a matter of getting an X-Ray. It was a matter of deciding if a treatment was possible to get him closer to being ready to play, and after going through that entire process, it was not an option.”

NCAA Tournament scores, schedule

Friday’s games

South Carolina 8, James Madison 7 (10 inn.)

N.C. State 9, Bryant 2

Saturday’s games

James Madison 8, Bryant 1 (Bryant eliminated)

N.C. State 6, South Carolina 4

Sunday’s games

South Carolina vs. James Madison in elimination game, noon (ESPNU, streaming on ESPN+)

N.C. State vs. TBD, 6 p.m. (TV TBD, streaming on ESPN+)

Monday’s game

If necessary, TBD (TV TBD, streaming on ESPN+)