It was Riley Hogan’s batting practice that gave Chad Holbrook the nudge to put him in the lineup Sunday. It paid off in the end as Hogan played a pivotal role in the Gamecocks series-clinching 4-2 win over Alabama.
The freshman, making his first start since Feb. 26 against Wright State, went 2-for-3, including a go-ahead RBI double with the game knotted at one in the sixth inning.
“I think that gave our dugout some momentum. That was big for Riley as a freshman,” Holbrook said. “His BP has been great. It gave me the gut to go with him today and he certainly delivered for us. We got a couple of other big hits.”
The other big hit was a Danny Blair double to lead off the Gamecocks’ half of the seventh with the game tied at two. Colby Lee surrendered a game-tying monster home run in the top of the inning, and Blair would steal momentum away from the Tide with the extra-base hit.
He would come around to score a batter later when Madison Stokes bunted him to third and the pitcher skied a throw trying to gun Blair out. That gave the Gamecocks a 3-2, and they would never trail again.
“I was going,” Blair said about the play. “My back was turned, so Coach (Esposito) did a good job of talking in my ear and telling me what to do. He just said ‘keep going’ so I just took off.”
The Gamecocks (17-6, 5-1 SEC) would get the nail-in-the-coffin run two batters later when Jonah Bride hit a sacrifice fly to center to plate Stokes, who moved to third on a sac bunt from Matt Williams.
“We actually played a really, really good inning from a fundamental baseball standpoint, which is nice to see,” Holbrook said. “We got a bunt down and then Jonah hit a sac fly. Hits were hard to come by and obviously runs were hard to come by, but we found a way to score more than our opponent. For that I’m grateful.”
Clarke Schmidt was dealing through the game’s first five innings, pitching a shutout and striking out five in the process. After missing his first start of his career last weekend, he would give up one run—a solo home run in the sixth—on three hits.
He retired nine straight batters after giving up a leadoff double in the third inning. He was relieved by Colby Lee to start the seventh after reaching his pitch count, which was about 75.
“Obviously in the regular season if he’s not hand strung a little bit by the injury and not being cautious, we’d probably let him finish the game,” Holbrook said. “He was being efficient. He could have easily kept going. It was one of his cleanest performances of the year from a command standpoint, location standpoint. It’s a good hitting team with some good left-handed hitters in there. He was terrific.”
Lee gave up the home run and was pulled two batters later for John Parke, who settled down the game and pitched in his first SEC game in almost two years.
He pitched two no-hit innings, only giving up a walk in the ninth. He also induced a double play in the eighth with the Gamecocks nursing a two-run lead.
The junior picks up his first win of the season after colie Bowers came in with an out in the ninth and closed out the game.
“John gives us a good arm out of the bullpen with a good breaking ball,” Holbrook said. “He’s got some confidence now and we’ll certainly use him a lot going forward.”
The Gamecocks move to 5-1 after their first two series in conference play, only the second time in the past 10 seasons they’ve won five of their first six SEC games.
This one is a little sweeter for Holbrook, he said, since the Gamecocks’ bullpen was thin without closer Tyler Johnson and Schmidt coming back from his oblique injury.
“Over the course of our six conference games, we’ve had a lot of contributions from guys that have been put in spots maybe they haven’t been put in before in their career,” Holbrook said. “To win five of our first six when we’re a little bit shorthanded in spots makes me awfully proud as a coach.”
Game Changer: Madison Stokes tried to bunt over Danny Blair and the pitcher made a throwing error trying to get the runner at third, which sent Blair home and gave the Gamecocks the lead.
Top Performer: Riley Hogan, making his first start since Feb. 26 against Wright State, went 2-for-3 with a double and a RBI. He also walked.
Up Next: The Gamecocks travel to Charleston Tuesday to take on The Citadel. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.