COLUMBIA, S.C. (USC SID) — South Carolina’s bats came alive in the 9th inning as the Gamecocks fought off elimination and topped Duke 4-2 in game three of the 2016 NCAA Columbia Regional. With the win, the Gamecocks (43-16) advanced to Sunday, where another elimination game is on the docket at 12 p.m. ET.
The Gamecocks and Blue Devils (33-24) were tied at 2-all heading into the 9th when junior Dom Thompson-Williams led off the inning with a walk. Following a sacrifice bunt, catcher Hunter Taylor doubled down the left field line to plate Thompson-Williams and give South Carolina the winning run. The Gamecocks added an insurance run later in the inning on a wild pitch.
Junior right-hander Tyler Johnson (2-2) earned the win for South Carolina, tossing 1.1 innings of scoreless relief to close the game. Senior lefty Trent Swart took the loss despite a noble effort; he allowed three runs in a season-high 8.0 innings while striking out four.
Taylor was making his fourth start of the season and his first since April 30. His hit was his first since April 16, and he had not driven a run home since March 16.
Senior Marcus Mooney went 2-for-4 at the plate with an RBI to lead the Gamecocks, while junior Gene Cone and freshman LT Tolbert also tallied two hits. Sophomore Justin Bellinger was Duke’s top hitter, going 2-for-3 with a home run.
Playing as the visiting team, South Carolina got on the board in the top of the 1st inning. Gene Cone led off the game with a single and came in to score three batters later on Jonah Bride’s infield single that tucked just inside of third base. After an inning, the Gamecocks led 1-0.
The Gamecocks doubled the lead one inning later. A Peter Mooney single brought home Taylor, and, though Duke shook off further damage with an inning-ending double play, South Carolina led 2-0 after two frames.
Duke answered with its first tally in the bottom of the 3rd inning. Max Miller reached with a single and advanced all the way to third on a failed pickoff attempt by Webb. When Jimmy Herron flew out to the left-field warning track, Miller scored easily on the sacrifice to cut the gap to 2-1.
The Gamecocks dodged a major bullet in the 4th inning. Duke loaded the bases with no one out, leading to the exit of starting pitcher Braden Webb. But Josh Reagan retired the next three batters on a strikeout, a force out at home and a pop out. The Blue Devils were unable to score, and South Carolina maintained a 2-1 lead.
The Blue Devils tied the game in the bottom of the 6th inning. Bellinger drove the first pitch of the inning deep to the concourse in right field, his seventh blast of the season, to draw Duke even at 2-2.
Pitching largely took over from that point. Swart sat down 11 straight Gamecocks beginning in the 5th inning, while South Carolina relievers Josh Reagan and Johnson got through the 7th and 8th innings without Duke crossing home.
South Carolina ended Swart’s streak when Dom Thompson-Williams singled up the middle to start the 9th inning. Two batters later, Taylor played the role of hero with his go-ahead double that later proved to be the winning hit. Two batters later, Tolbert scored on a wild pitch to provide an important insurance run.
Johnson, who had come on earlier to close out the 8th inning, stayed on to pitch the 9th and preserve the victory.
Taylor had driven in just one run this season prior to his heroics in the 9th inning. That RBI came in a much more low-key situation, South Carolina’s 15-2 win over Davidson on March 16.
Though Reagan did not factor into the decision, he played a huge role in the victory. He tossed 4.2 innings, matching his longest effort of the season, and allowed just one Duke run.
South Carolina will play in another elimination game on Sunday at 12 p.m. ET. The Gamecocks will face the loser of Saturday night’s matchup between UNCW and Rhode Island.