With the game tied in the ninth inning, Chris Cotton surrendered a pair of runs to give No. 15 South Carolina a 4-2 victory against No. 2 LSU at Alex Box Stadium on Saturday night.
Gamecock CF Tanner English’s RBI-triple brought in the first run, and a controversial balk call put the Gamecocks ahead by two. As Cotton delivered the pitch to Graham Saiko, home plate umpire Fred Cannon called that Cotton had not come completely set before the pitch.
“I guess I sped up, Cotton said. "That’s what it could have been. He called a balk on me, and as a home plate umpire, I haven’t seen that happen in a while. But it happened and I should have come set longer. The run scored off it and I didn’t do my job…
“[On the go-ahead triple] it was flat. It was supposed to run away, and it just stayed down the middle.”
The balk brought in the run from third and also brought out Paul Mainieri from the dugout, who was promptly ejected from the game.
“It was a frustrating night,” Mainieri said. “That’s the best way to describe it…
“I wouldn’t have reacted that way if I agreed with it,” he continued. “I don’t really see where there was a need to call it. Usually balks are called if the pitcher is trying to deceive the runner from trying to steal a base. Obviously the runner was on third base. What are you going to do? But the umpires make the calls, and we deal with them and move forward.”
It was indeed a frustrating night for the LSU offense and defense, particularly for SS Alex Bregman. The freshman committed a pair of errors, including one in the ninth that led to the game-winning run. His other also resulted in a pair of unearned runs in the first inning.
“I tried to come in and get that last one and it hit off the palm of my glove,” Bregman said. “There’s no excuse for it. I should have made the play.”
Bregman also had a chance to spark a LSU rally in the final frame. With runners on the corners and two outs, Bregman made solid contact but lofted one up into the outfield, leading to a routine pop fly for the final out.
That was one of many blown opportunities for the LSU hitters. The Tigers did total 14 hits, with the leadoff man reaching in eight of the nine innings, but LSU was only able to produce two runs.
The Tigers stranded five runners in scoring position, including an inning-ending double play in the third with the bases loaded.
“Sometimes you get hits, and you can’t quite string them together,” Ross said. “We were battling, but you have to string them together a bit more. We had a lot of hits, so we just have to find a way to get it going and make more things happen.”
The game got off to a rocky start for LSU starter Ryan Eades. After Bregman’s error to open the game, Eades allowed hits to three of the next five batters, resulting in a pair of runs for the Gamecocks.
Eades settled in after that, tossing six more scoreless innings, while only allowing six base runners.
“That first inning was a struggle for him,” Mainieri said. “But Ryan pitched out of it and we were able to hold it down. We just weren’t able to get the runs across when we needed to.”
Despite the early deficit, LSU was able to claw back into it, tying it in the sixth inning. The Tigers cut the deficit in half in the third with a sacrifice fly from Ty Ross that scored Raph Rhymes, who reached on a leadoff double.
Rhymes also opened the sixth inning with a two-bagger, and again was brought in by Ross. That run tied it before Cotton eventually lost the game in the ninth inning.
“We’ll bounce back and learn from this,” Rhymes said. “We’ll get better…This is what you come to LSU for. This is what we expected. They’re a great team, and it will be a battle tomorrow.”
With the series split, LSU will send out junior Kurt McCune to make his first weekend start of the season. First pitch is set for 2 p.m.