The Bulldogs surrendered a three-run lead in the eighth inning, falling 7-6 to No. 7 South Carolina in the opening game of a three-game Southeastern Conference weekend series.
MSU had won three straight series openers. On this night, the Maroon and White could not make it four straight; instead, dropping a one-run decision in conference play for the fourth time this season. MSU is now 21-13 overall and 5-8 in league play, while the two-time defending national champions improved to 25-10 and 6-7.
"I thought our kids played great," MSU head coach John Cohen said. "Once again, we went on the road in a great atmosphere and I thought we out-competed our opponent. We kept battling. We kept competing. We certainly deserved to win the ballgame."
MSU junior right-hander Chris Stratton delivered another splendid Friday night start. Stratton left the contest with a 6-4 lead and two outs in the eighth inning. Closer Caleb Reed (0-5) suffered his first blown save of the season, as the Gamecocks rallied for three scores and plated the game-winner on a wild pitched third strike.
"Chris had one bad inning where he got behind some people," Cohen said. "Other than that, he was outstanding. Caleb made the right pitches but didn't have anything to show for it. We jam a batter and he does not get all of it. Because it is mis-hit the ball falls in there and (Brent) Brownlee can't make the catch.
"Then you get a strikeout to end the inning but it is not blocked up. Mitch (Slauter) is so great at blocking up behind the plate. You don't expect them to be able to score a run that way. It hurts when you make all the right pitches and then get penalized for it. Sometimes, that is how this game is."
South Carolina staked all-American pitching ace Michael Roth to a three-run lead in the third inning. After not threatening in the first two at-bats, the Gamecocks reached Stratton for three runs on four hits. A two-run single by JB Dantzler was the big blow in the inning.
The Bulldogs began to rally with a C.T. Bradford solo home run in the fifth inning. MSU chased Roth with four runs in the sixth inning to grab a two-run lead. A solo home run by Wes Rea began the big sixth inning. Trey Porter reached as a hit batsman. Hunter Renfroe followed with a double.
A two-run triple by C.T. Bradford placed the Bulldogs on top 4-3. Bradford would then cap the inning by scoring on a groundball out. An inning later, an RBI-double by Daryl Norris gave the Bulldogs a critical insurance score.
In the eighth inning, Stratton got the first two outs before Grayson Greiner slammed a solo home run. Stratton was lifted after a single by Adam Matthews.
Reed was touched for a double by pinch-hitter Brison Celek and a two-run triple by pinch-hitter Sean Sullivan. Sullivan's hit snuck past Brownlee on his diving attempt at a catch. Sullivan then scored the game-winner on a wild pitched third strike, which would have ended the inning.
"We were down 3-0 on the road in a great atmosphere," Cohen said. "The kids kept battling. They kept competing. They kept battling hard. Still, you have to find a way to win games like this."
Closer Matt Price retired the side in order in the ninth inning for his second save. Evan Beal (2-3) picked up the win with one out of middle relief work. Stratton allowed nine hits and five runs (all earned), with 11 strikeouts and two walks in 7.2 innings of work.
The Bulldogs finished with seven hits, including two hits and three RBIs for Bradford.
The Gamecocks finished with 11 hits, including two hits by Greiner.
The series resumes at 3 p.m. Saturday.