COLUMBIA, S.C. (USC SID) — The University of Rhode Island rallied from a 4-0 deficit to upset top-seeded South Carolina, 5-4, on the opening day of the 2016 NCAA Columbia Regional. The victory is Rhode Island’s first NCAA Tournament win in program history.
The Gamecocks took a 4-0 advantage after three innings but did not find the scoreboard again, while Rhode Island mounted a furious comeback in the middle innings and held on late. Brett McManus provided the winning swing for the Rams, driving in two runs on an odd 5th-inning play that was scored a fielder’s choice.
Sophomore left-hander Tyler Wilson (13-1) was the catalyst for the Rams, earning the victory with seven strong innings on the mound. Wilson settled in after giving up two home runs in the 1st, eventually going 7.0 IP and allowing four runs. He struck out 11 batters and threw 125 pitches. Tyler Barss came on with the tying run on base in the 9th inning and closed the game out for the Rams to earn his 13th save of the season.
Clarke Schmidt (9-4) suffered the loss, allowing five runs in 4.0 innings of work. He struck out eight.
Rhode Island is making its second NCAA Tournament appearance; in its first berth, 2005, it went 0-2 with losses to Long Beach State and Pepperdine.
McManus finished 1-for-5 with a home run and three RBI, while senior Ryan Olmo was 2-for-5 with a homer of his own. The Gamecocks were led at the plate by sophomore Alex Destino, who finished 2-for-5 and hit a two-run homer.
Two home runs boosted South Carolina to a 3-0 lead after one inning. Gene Cone launched a pitch over the right-field fence to start the bottom half of the inning, and three batters later Destino did the same. Dom Thompson-Williams scored on the Destino blast, and the Gamecocks had a cushion after just one frame.
Another Gamecock crossed the plate in the 3rd inning, as Jonah Bride singled through the right side to plate TJ Hopkins. South Carolina stranded a pair in the inning but stretched the lead to 4-0.
Rhode Island made things interesting with consecutive one-out home runs in the 4th inning. Olmo drove a 2-0 pitch over the wall in right field, and on the very next pitch McManus drove the ball into the left-field bullpen. At the end of the frame, Carolina’s lead was 4-2.
The Rams surged ahead by plating three runs in the 5th inning. URI loaded the bases with no outs, and Jordan Powell singled at the end of an eight-pitch at-bat to bring one run home. The hit made it 4-3 and chased Schmidt from the game.
Two batters later, Rhode Island took the lead on a unique and somewhat confusing play. McManus roped a ball into the left-center gap, and Thompson-Williams nearly made an acrobatic leaping catch. But the ball jostled loose at the last second, allowing two runners to score. However, the runner at first, Powell, thought the ball was caught and returned to bag. That allowed Thompson-Williams to throw him out at second on the force play; still, two runs scored and the Rams took a 5-4 lead midway through the game on the fielder’s choice.
With Schmidt out of the game, Carolina’s bullpen came up huge to keep the deficit to just a single run. Juniors Reed Scott, Taylor Widener and Josh Reagan combined to throw five scoreless inning, with Widener fanning six batters in 3.1 innings on the hill.
But South Carolina could not muster the tying run it needed to draw even with the Rams. The Gamecocks put men on base in each of the game’s last five innings without notching a run.
Rhode Island’s back-to-back home runs from Olmo and McManus in the 4th inning turned the game around, leading to URI’s first ever NCAA Regional win.
The Gamecocks did not tally a base hit after Hopkins led off the 5th inning with a double.
South Carolina will face Duke in an elimination game Saturday at noon ET, while Rhode Island advances to the winner’s bracket. The Rams will meet UNCW at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday.