COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina walked into Carolina Stadium on Thursday night, walked around its bases, walked to home plate and walked out with a win.
LSU blew a four-run lead and its pitchers issued three consecutive bases-loaded, run-scoring walks at one point in an unsettling 10-7 loss to South Carolina on Thursday in the opener of the regular season series finale.
The Gamecocks (32-22, 13-15 Southeastern) stormed back from a 6-2 deficit by scoring four runs in each the sixth and seventh innings, smacking the Tigers (44-9, 19-8) with just a fourth loss in the last 25 games.
LSU starter Jared Poché allowed six runs in a six-inning start, and the Tigers twice loaded the bases with one out and couldn’t drive in a run. Reliever Jake Godfrey walked four batters in a nightmarish seventh inning, and coach Paul Mainieri’s team missed on a first opportunity to secure an SEC West division title in part because of a five-walk seventh inning.
“Once the game got tied, we just gave it to them really,” Mainieri said afterward.
LSU, the top-ranked team in the land, still needs one win in this three-game series to win the division over Texas A&M and two to win the regular-season SEC championship — one if Vanderbilt doesn’t sweep Alabama. The Commodores and Aggies both won Thursday.
What’s more concerning than whiffing on a conference title in its first swing? The struggles from No. 1 pitcher Poché and the bullpen.
“I’ll take the blame for it,” Poché said. “I blew a four-run lead. Offense, hitters ... they came out and hit well enough to win tonight.”
LSU led 6-2 entering the sixth inning before Poché allowed four hits, including a two-run, two-out home run that tied the game at 6. Godfrey started the seventh inning on the mound.
He allowed a leadoff single, walked the next batter and intentionally waked No. 4 hole hitter Kyle Martin to load the bases with one out.
Godfrey then walked Elliott Caldwell to score the go-ahead run and started 2-0 on the next batter before Mainieri yanked him for Hunter Newman. Newman, arguably LSU’s top reliever, completed Godfrey’s walk to make it 8-6 and then walked Hunter Taylor to make it 9-6 as an announced 7,507 at Carolina Stadium roared.
“You go in there and just got to fill up the zone and not walk the guy,” Newman said. “It’s baseball. You can’t go out there every single time and get three up, three down.
It’s over now. We’ll come back tomorrow and try to get that W.”
Godfrey threw 17 balls in his 23 pitches, four of those intentional balls. It was a stunning collapse from a freshman who had been streaking in the relief role.
“Didn’t throw the ball over the plate,” Mainieri said of Godfrey, a rookie from Illinois who took the loss. “There’s no defense against a base on balls.”
LSU had a whopping 15 hits — 11 of which came in the first six innings. The Tigers jumped out to that big lead, but they could have been so much more.
A team hanging on the NCAA regional bubble, South Carolina twice turned inning-ending, thunderous double plays with the bases loaded. Alex Bregman hit into a 4-6-5 DP in the sixth inning, and Jared Foster did it in the seventh inning, stranding a total of six Tigers.
Bregman’s 49-game streak of reaching base safely ended, and so did his 17-game hitting streak. He reached via an error, went 0-for-4 and hit into that double play in the sixth — a game changer, he said.
“I think that changed the game. I think that gave them momentum and they came out and hit a big homer to tie the game after that,” Bregman said. “I take responsibility for that. That was terrible. I should never have grounded into a double play.”
The Tigers chased USC starter Jack Wynkoop in the sixth inning, slamming him for 11 hits and six runs in the pitcher’s shortest start in an SEC game this season. The 5.1-inning stay was his shortest nod since he went five innings in the season opener.
LSU seemed to be coasting to an SEC West title and a series opening win before that sixth inning.
“We did so many good things offensively tonight,” Mainieri said. “Just did a tremendous job against a really good pitcher. I was really proud of our offensive effort.”
His arms let him down.
USC three-hole hitter Max Schrock started the sixth with a single up the middle, and No. 4 hitter Kyle Martin ripped a double to right field. Poché retired the next two batters before allowing another single to make it 6-4.
DC Arendas then smashed a pitch to right field for a game-tying, two-run shot.
“I felt good, cruising up until that four-run inning,” Poché said. “They definitely took a different approach. Give credit to them. They took some really good pitches.”
Poche’s six runs allowed — five earned — were tied for the most in his career. Godfrey’s woes may be more concerning. The No. 3 starter-turned-top reliever had his walk troubles re-emerge. He retired one batter in five faced.
“Lost a little command of his fastball,” Poché said. “Things that’ll happen. He’s a young guy in an atmosphere like this. He’ll bounce back.”
The loss — and the way it happened — overshadowed a solid showing from Foster, who started at second base in his first game back since reclaiming his eligibility.
The senior missed last weekend’s series at Texas A&M because Mainieri expected him to be ruled academically Monday. Foster won an appeal and was ruled eligible based on an unusual NCAA rule.
He shined early on in the game, making three defensive plays in the first three innings – one on a tough charger he had to whip quickly to first. He started 2 for 3 at the plate, hitting a pair of singles, but he hit into that double play with the bases loaded and grounded out while representing the tying run in the top of the ninth.
Chris Chinea, meanwhile, continued his hot streak. He tied the game at 1 with a solo homer in the top of the second inning — his 10th homer in the last 27 games. He had a double and a single in extending his hitting streak to 14 games.
That was little comfort after this collapse.
“We have to get past this,” Chinea said, “and come out ready to play tomorrow.”