NO-maha: Gamecocks miss fourth straight trip to CWS

North Carolina scored three times in the bottom of the sixth and held on for a 5-4 win in the third and deciding game of the Super Regionals at Boshamer Stadium Tuesday afternoon.

With the win, the Tar Heels (57-10) advance to the College World Series and will take on NC State in the 3 p.m. ET game on Sunday in Omaha, Neb. The Gamecocks (43-20) have their season come to an end one game short of a fourth-straight trip to the CWS.

South Carolina got on the board first for the third straight game in the series with a run in the top of the second. Connor Bright stroked a one-out double to left off Tar Heel starter Benton Moss and scored on Tanner English’s two-out single to center.

North Carolina answered right back in the bottom of the inning. After the first two batters were retired, Michael Russell was hit by a pitch. Brian Holberton followed with his 11th home run of the season, a two-run shot over the right field wall. It was the first round tripper allowed by Gamecock starter Jack Wynkoop this season and put the Tar Heels on top 2-1.

The game was then turned over to the team’s bullpens. North Carolina head coach Mike Fox called on Trent Thornton in the third inning. None of the three North Carolina starters in the series lasted more than 2.1 innings. South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook countered with senior left-hander Adam Westmoreland in the third as well.

The Gamecocks retook the lead in the top of the fifth with the help of some shaky Tar Heel defense. Kyle Martin walked to lead off the inning. English laid down a sacrifice bunt and reached base safely when first baseman Cody Stubbs was unable to handle the throw from Thornton. Both runners moved up a base on Graham Saiko’s sacrifice bunt. Thornton appeared to have worked out of the jam as Chase Vergason struck out and Joey Pankake lofted a ball to medium-deep centerfield, but Chaz Frank dropped the routine fly for a two-base error, scoring both Martin and English, giving the Gamecocks a 3-2 lead.

South Carolina added a single run in the sixth to open up a two-run advantage at 4-2. Grayson Greiner and Max Schrock lined back-to-back singles to left to open the frame. Greiner was forced at third on Bright’s bunt attempt and Kyle Martin fanned before English dropped one just inside the left field line for a double, scoring Schrock.

Once again, the Tar Heels responded quickly, batting around in the deciding three-run sixth. Landon Lassiter led off with a liner off the glove of Pankake at short for a single. Colin Moran laced a triple into the right field corner, scoring Lassiter and cutting the lead in half. After Skye Bolt was hit by a pitch, Stubbs lofted a shallow fly to center. Moran held at third on the catch, but Bolt tagged up and advanced to second on the throw from English that was cut off by Martin. Martin threw wildly to second trying to nail Bolt, allowing Moran to score the tying run and Bolt to advance to third.

It marked the Gamecocks’ third error of the game and ninth error of the series. Westmoreland was one out away from working out of the inning after Russell grounded out, but after Holberton was walked intentionally, Mike Zolk walked to load the bases. Tyler Webb relieved Westmoreland and, after getting ahead in the count 0-2, walked Parks Jordan, forcing in Bolt with the eventual game-winning run before getting Frank to fly out to end the uprising.

Thornton (11-1) was credited with the win after working 4.2 innings of relief in which he allowed three hits and three runs, one earned, with two walks and four strikeouts. Westmoreland (7-4) was tagged with the loss. He worked 3.1 innings, surrendering three runs, all earned, on two hits with two walks and no strikeouts. Webb, making his school-record 110th and final appearance, allowed one hit and one walk in 2.1 innings of work.

Left-hander Kent Emanuel, the fourth Tar Heel pitcher of the game and the starter in game 1, recorded the final two outs for his first save of the season.

Photo courtesy of USC Athletics

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