AUBURN, ALABAMA - Whit Merrifield's RBI fielder's choice in the top of the ninth inning lifted South Carolina to a 7-6 victory over Auburn on Friday evening at Plainsman Park in the first of a three-game SEC baseball series.
Justin Smoak also set the South Carolina career record for home runs as he hit his 49th in a Gamecock uniform and his 10th of the season. Carolina is now 23-10 and 7-6 in the SEC while Auburn is now 22-13 and 6-7 in the conference. The series continues on Saturday afternoon with first pitch set for 4 pm ET. The game will be broadcast live on the Gamecock Radio Network and on gamecocksonline.com with Mike Morgan and Tommy Moody on the call.
With the game tied at 6-6 in the top of the ninth inning, the Gamecocks got things started with a one-out walk to Scott Wingo. The Gamecocks would then put runners on the corners as the hit-and-run worked with Reese Havens knocking a base hit through the hole at shortstop giving the Gamecocks the winning run at third base. Merrifield then delivered a line shot to third base that Joseph Sanders corralled to get Reese Havens out at second base but that would be the only out for Auburn on the play as Wingo scored and Merrifield reached first base. Auburn looked to mount a rally in the bottom half of the ninth with runners on first and second base with one out. Carolina reliever Brandon Todd worked his way out of the jam though as he coaxed Sanders into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game and preserve the Gamecock victory.
Todd earned the win and is 2-1 on the year after two innings of work out of the bullpen. He allowed one run on three hits with a walk. Auburn reliever Bryan Woodall suffered the loss and is 2-2 on the year. He went an inning and allowed one run on one hit and one walk.
South Carolina started off the game in record-breaking fashion in the top of the first inning when Justin Smoak clubbed his record-setting 49th career homer with two outs off of Auburn starter Grant Dayton. On a 0-2 pitch, Smoak drilled his 10th homer of the year to left center to give the Gamecocks a 1-0 lead and move past Hank Small ((48)1972-73-74-75) for the school record.
The Gamecocks continued to use the long ball to increase the lead to 3-0 in the second inning.
After Kyle Enders reached base on a two-out double, Andrew Crisp followed with a two-run homer to left field over the 30 feet wall to give Carolina a three-run cushion. It marked Crisp's first home run of the season.
Auburn would show off the power as well in the bottom half of the second inning with a solo home run by Brian Fletcher, his third of the season. Fletcher drilled a 1-0 pitch from Carolina starter Mike Cisco to left center to bring the Tigers within two runs.
Smoak increased the Gamecock lead back to three runs in the third inning as a RBI single up the middle scored Whit Merrifield. Merrifield had reached base in the previous at-bat with a double down the left field line, his first two base hit of the year.
Auburn answered the Gamecocks again in the bottom half with a pair of runs to cut the deficit to 4-3. Trent Mummey reached base on a fielder's choice and then advanced to second on a one-out single from Matt Hall. After a double steal advanced the runners to second and third base, Auburn scored its second run on a sacrifice fly from Mike Bianucci. Hall would then score the third run on a RBI double from Hunter Morris.
Carolina would increase the lead back to three runs in the sixth inning with two more off of Dayton. James Darnell reached base on a fielding error by second baseman Justin Hargett. The Gamecocks then put runners on second and third base as Phil Disher drilled a double down the left field line. Darnell would score on Dayton's next pitch as he threw low and past Auburn catcher Ryan Jenkins for a wild pitch. Carolina would then go ahead 6-3 on Harley Lail's RBI single to right field.
For the third time in the game, Auburn answered in the bottom half with a run to cut the Gamecock lead to two runs. Brian Fletcher reached base with one out on a throwing error by James Darnell. The Tigers then put together consecutive two-out singles by Ryan Jenkins and Justin Hargett to score Fletcher for an unearned run. Gamecock reliever Craig Thomas came on in relief and was able to get Trent Mummey to ground out to Andrew Crisp to keep the Carolina lead at 6-4.
Auburn would tie the game at 6-6 with single runs in the seventh and eight innings. Hunter Morris delivered a RBI base hit in the seventh inning to score Matt Hall. The Gamecocks would then catch a break with pickoff at second base by catcher Kyle Enders on Mike Bianucci. The pickoff gave the Tigers just one runner, at first base with one out and Parker Bangs was able to strike out a pair of Auburn hitters to keep the Gamecocks on top by a run. Auburn tied the game though in the bottom of the eighth as Trent Mummey delivered with a two-out single against Todd.
South Carolina won the game despite being out-hit by the Tigers. It marked the first time this season Carolina won despite being out-hit by an opponent.
Carolina had 10 hits including two apiece from Smoak, Disher and Andrew Crisp. Smoak has homered in three consecutive contests. Auburn had 13 hits on the night with Hargett leading the way with three. Mummey, Morris and Ryan Jenkins all had two apiece as well for the Tigers.
Saturday and Sunday's games will also be available on Sirius Radio, channel 140. The Sunday game will be televised on a tape delay basis on CSS-TV.