COLUMBIA, S.C. – The two-time defending NCAA champion South Carolina Gamecocks manufactured a run in the eighth inning and that proved to be the difference in a close ballgame, as they defeated the VMI Keydets 2-1 in non-conference baseball action Friday in Columbia, S.C. The game marked the season opener for both schools.
In a game that had been deadlocked at 1 since the third inning, South Carolina’s (1-0) Evan Marzilli led off the eighth with a bunt hit against Keydet reliever Alan Watts. The next hitter bunted Marzilli to second, but Watts retired star first baseman Christian Walker on a pop-up to first. He then got ahead of cleanup hitter LB Dantzler 0-2, but the Gamecock third baseman singled to center on the next pitch, plating Marzilli with the eventual winning run.
VMI (0-1) had a leadoff single in the ninth by George Piccirilli, but pinch-runner Brandon Angus was caught stealing as South Carolina hung on for the win.
Watts (0-1) took the loss for the Keydets, allowing a run on two hits in the eighth, while Tyler Webb (1-0) was credited with the victory in relief, as he went 2 1/3 innings, allowed just one hit and struck out four. Forrest Koumas picked up the save.
Neither starter figured in the decision, but both were strong all day, as Coby Cowgill threw seven innings for the Keydets, scattering seven hits, while Michael Roth allowed four hits over six frames for the hosts. Offensively, Marzilli had three hits to lead the Gamecocks, while five different VMI hitters accounted for the five Keydet singles. There were no extra base hits in Friday’s game.
“I was extremely proud of the way we competed tonight,” said VMI head coach Marlin Ikenberry. “Coby did a great job all night. We have a lot of new faces out there, and there’s not a better way to open then here with the national championship flag being raised. That certainly makes you realize you’re playing a great team, but today, every player that got in the game for us competed, and that was what I was most proud of. I thought we played good defense, and it was just an awesome environment. The difference in the ballgame was simply one pitch, the 0-2 pitch to Dantzler that Alan left over the plate just a little, and he took advantage. That’s what good SEC hitters do.”
Neither team scored in the first, with the only runner, Marzilli, being cut down stealing by VMI catcher Matt Winn, who was making his collegiate debut. The Keydets drew first blood in the second, as with one out, Cameron Walter singled to left. He moved up a base on a ground out, and freshman shortstop Drew Bryan drove him home with an RBI single, giving the Keydets a 1-0 lead.
Cowgill faced the minimum three in the second, and VMI had a golden chance in the third frame. With one out, Jordan Tarsovich had an infield single, and Jacob Morley followed with a base hit to center. George Piccirilli, however, struck out, and Roth got Rob Dickinson to ground out to end the threat.
South Carolina immediately took advantage in the bottom half. Kyle Martin led off with a single, but one out later, was erased on a fielder’s choice. Marzilli then singled with two outs, and Cowgill threw a wild pitch to allow both runners to move up. The next pitch then got by Winn for a passed ball, allowing a run to score and knotting the game up, 1-1.
Both starters then settled in, and neither squad got another runner into scoring position until the seventh. SC shortstop Joey Pankake walked, Cowgill’s first free pass of the day, and one out later, Tanner English had a bunt single. Cowgill, however, induced Chase Vergason to ground out to end the threat. VMI then went in order against Webb in the eighth, setting the stage for the game-deciding rally in the bottom half.
In the ninth, Piccirilli led off with a single to right, and Angus came off the bench to pinch-run. After a strikeout, Koumas relieved and Angus was thrown out stealing on the first pitch, squelching VMI’s hopes for a rally.
VMI will return to action Saturday, taking on South Carolina in game two of the three-game series. Game time is set for noon.