Joey Pankake hit the second pitch of the bottom of the ninth into The Citadel bullpen to offset a dramatic Bulldog rally in the top of the inning and give the Gamecocks a 6-5 victory Tuesday night at Carolina Stadium.
South Carolina, ranked eighth in the nation, won for the ninth time in its past 10 games to improve to 27-7 while the Bulldogs dropped to 17-17. The Gamecocks swept the home-and-home series, having also won 9-5 in Charleston on March 19.
Beginning with that home defeat to South Carolina, The Citadel has lost 10 of its last 13 games, with five of the losses coming by one run. It was the second time the Bulldogs lost to a nationally-ranked team in walk-off fashion, having suffered a 5-4 setback against Georgia Tech on March 26 on a two-run homer by Daniel Spingola.
The Bulldogs were without closer Skylar Hunter on Tuesday after he worked 4 2/3 innings of relief in Sunday's game against Elon.
The Citadel stormed back from a 5-2 deficit with three runs in the top of the ninth to stun the crowd of 7,721. Hughston Armstrong bunted for a single with one out, and Joe Jackson followed with a single off the fence in right field.
After Bo Thompson popped out to second, Jason Smith singled into the hole at short to load the bases. Drew DeKerlegand drew a walk to force in the first run of the inning, and Johnathan Stokes greeted Curt Britt with a base hit into left just past the diving Pankake to plate Jackson and Smith with the tying runs.
The excitement in The Citadel's third base dugout was short lived, however, as Pankake drove a 1-0 pitch off David Rivera (4-1) deep into left center for his sixth home run of the season and second against the Bulldogs. The round tripper gave the Gamecocks their fourth straight win in the series.
The Citadel comeback became necessary when South Carolina scored three times against three Bulldog pitchers in the seventh to take its first lead of the game at 5-2. Zach Sherrill allowed a hit and a walk but retired two batters when James Reeves entered the game.
Brison Celek, pinch hitting to create a lefty-righty matchup, singled up the middle to score Chase Vergason and give the Gamecocks a 3-2 lead. Connor Bright followed with another single to put runners at the corners and bring Rivera into the game.
Grayson Greiner hit a line drive to center that fell just in front of the diving Smith that scored two and upped South Carolina's margin to three runs. Greiner homered and drove in three runs in the Gamecocks' victory in Charleston, giving him five RBI in the two games.
Both teams went down in order in the eighth to set the stage for the ninth inning dramatics.
The Citadel jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first against South Carolina starter Joel Seddon. Mason Davis singled and stole his 14th base of the year. Jackson walked with one out, and Thompson grounded a double inside the line at third to score both runners.
Thompson walked three times in addition to his first inning hit and extended his streak of reaching base to 33 consecutive games. The two RBI gives his 30 on the year, making him the third Bulldog after Jackson (34) and Tyler Griffin (30) to reach that mark.
Citadel starter Austin Livingston made the lead hold up through four innings, pitching out of a bases loaded jam in the third and retiring the side in order in the fourth before losing his shutout an inning later. Dante Rosenberg hit his first career home run, and the Gamecocks tied it on a shallow sacrifice fly to center by Vergason that scored the speedy Tanner English.
Livingston went 4 1/3 innings, allowing six hits and two runs (one earned) with one walk and three strikeouts.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs had several scoring opportunities of their own. The Citadel had two hits in the second and then had a golden chance to expand its lead in the third, loading the bases with nobody out. But DeKerlegand popped out to second and Stokes hit a double play grounder to short to keep it just a two-run lead.
The Citadel finished the game with 11 hits but left 12 runners on base.
During the third inning, Griffin reached on a sacrifice bunt and collided with South Carolina second baseman Max Schrock on a close play at first. Schrock was down for several minutes with a neck injury but was able to walk off the field under his own power. Griffin stayed in for another inning before leaving with a sore foot that resulted from the play.
The Citadel stays on the road for a Southern Conference series against Georgia Southern in Statesboro beginning Friday at 6 p.m. The Bulldogs enter the weekend with a 6-6 record in the conference.
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