The Charlotte 49ers (2-2) lost a nail-biter to No.4-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks (3-1) Tuesday night in Columbia, South Carolina, 4-5, having the tying run just 90 feet away at the conclusion of the game, with the winning run sitting on first.
“We did a lot of good things over the course of the game,” head coach Loren Hibbs said after the game. “When you play the caliber of this team on the road, with the kind of arms they run out there, the margin of error is pretty thin.”
Trailing 5-3 heading into the ninth inning, Charlotte leaned on pinch-hitter and freshman Zack Smith to start the inning, sending the first pitch from closer Tyler Johnson into right field. The 49ers fed off the momentum from the freshman, as Reece Hampton moved himself and Smith up 90 feet with a one-out single to left-center. Brett Netzer singled in Smith with his third hit of the ballgame to right, pulling the Niners within one, 5-4. With runners at first and third, Charlotte failed to move Hampton across home plate against one of the best bullpens they will see all year.
Matt Horkey (L,0-1) got the start on the mound for the 49ers, throwing 4.1 innings, giving up three runs on eight hits, while punching out two South Carolina batters.
South Carolina got on the board early at Founders Park, as TJ Hopkins reached base off of a wild throw from Hunter Jones at short on a slow-roller. Hopkins moved up to second on a groundout, then stole third with ease. On the pitch that he stole, the ball went by catcher Harris Yett, as Hopkins kept the wheels turning around third and slid into home as Yett was not able to pick up the ball cleanly by the backstop.
Charlotte answered in the top of the second, as T.J. Nichting recorded one of his two hits with a single into right field to lead off the inning. Logan Sherer then hit a soft groundball to Madison Stokes at short, which then Stokes proceeded to throw the ball into right field trying to get Nichting out on the force play at second. Nichting sprinted to third and with little hesitation, darted home, catching the Gamecocks sleeping, tying the game, 1-1.
The Gamecocks responded in the bottom half of the inning, using a solo-shot from Jacob Olson that just cleared the left-center wall to give USC the one-run lead.
Netzer led off the third with one of his two doubles on the day, followed by a Jackson Mims’ walk. Nichting continued his hot-streak at the plate, sending a double down the left field line to bring in Netzer, resulting in another tie, 2-2. After a pitching change for South Carolina, sophomore Drew Ober grounded out to second, scoring Mims from third base to give Charlotte a 3-2 lead.
After a few clean innings for both pitchers, South Carolina scored three in the fifth off of Horkey and Sean Geoghegan to retake the lead. Carlos Cortez smacked a one-out double to center, followed by a double from Justin Row to left, giving the fans of over 6,000 another tie. With Row on second, Charlotte went with Geoghegan against left-handed hitter Alex Destino, who made the 49ers pay with a two-run bomb to right field, giving South Carolina a 5-3 advantage.
Following the home run from Destino, Charlotte’s bullpen, that consisted of Brandon Vogler, J.D. Prochaska, Philip Perry and Jonah Patten, did not allow another run to come across for USC, raking up six strikeouts, including three from Vogler.
Colie Bowers (W, 1-0) received the win for the Gamecocks, tossing 2.0 innings of no-hit ball, while striking out one batter.
Charlotte will return home as they welcome the Rider Broncs to Hayes Stadium for a four-game series, starting Friday at 3 p.m.