Billikens’ Rally Falls Short in NCAA Tournament Opener
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Saint Louis rallied from three runs down to tie it 3-3 in the top of the eighth, but South Carolina answered with four runs in the bottom half of the inning and held on for a 7-3 victory Friday in NCAA Tournament action at Carolina Stadium.
SLU (41-20), the No. 4 seed in the Columbia Regional, now plays No. 2 seed Clemson Saturday at 1 p.m. (CT) in an elimination game. South Carolina (40-18) advances to face Liberty tomorrow at 6 p.m. (CT).
The Billikens received a valiant effort from starting pitcher Clay Smith. He tossed seven innings, allowing four runs (three earned) while scattering eight hits. He struck out three and walked one.
Freshman left fielder Michael Bozarth paced the offense with a pair of hits and a run scored. Sophomore first baseman Mike Vigliarolo had a hit and SLU’s lone RBI. Senior catcher Grant Nelson and junior center fielder Danny Brennan also registered hits on the night.
South Carolina southpaw starter Nolan Belcher was perfect through three innings and kept the Billikens off the scoreboard until the sixth.
Meanwhile, South Carolina jumped on the board early, scoring runs in each of the first two innings to take a 2-0 lead through two innings of play. It could have been worse, however, if not for Brennan gunning a runner down at home from center to end the second inning.
Bozarth was SLU’s first base runner when he singled to lead off the fourth, but he was erased from the base paths after attempting to steal second.
USC tacked on another run in the bottom of the fourth, and Smith kept the Gamecocks at bay before the Billikens went to work in the seventh and eighth.
Bozarth led off the seventh with a single to right. Nelson moved Bozarth into scoring position with another single. Vigliarolo, the A-10 co-Player of the Year, drove in Bozarth with a single to left to make it 3-1.
Brennan led off the top of the eighth with a bunt single, then advanced to second as Mike Levine reached on a fielder’s choice and an error. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch, then came around to score on an error by the USC third baseman to knot the game at 3-all.
South Carolina scored the eventual game-winning runs in the bottom of the eighth, taking advantage of a pair of Billiken defensive miscues and a wild pitch.
Joey Pankake led off the inning reaching on an error. South Carolina ended up with runners on the corners with one out when Kyle Martin pushed across the go ahead run with a single. The Gamecocks would score three more insurance runs – one on a wild pitch, one on an RBI double and one on an error.
Saint Louis went down in order in the ninth.
Smith was tagged with the loss on the mound for the Billikens. USC’s Tyler Webb picked up the win in relief.