Toughness was Mike Bianco’s message as he stood in left field facing his team that dropped consecutive games for the first time this season.
“He said we need to be tougher, which is completely right,” Brady Feigl said. “You can go play the non-conference teams and beat them if you do a good job, but it’s different in the SEC. They’re going to stand there and they’re going to make you take it.”
That is exactly what South Carolina did in its 9-5 series-clinching win over Ole Miss on Friday.
“That’s what we need to start doing. We’ve gotta be tougher,” Feigl said.
After a tough loss Thursday night, all seemed well in the first inning. Chad Smith put up a zero in a 1-2-3 first inning, and Ole Miss made South Carolina starter Braden Webb pay for two early walks and took a 2-0 lead on a Colby Bortles double. After that, it was a different story. Things got tough. Webb got tough, retiring the next 17 batters on his way to a 14 strikeout performance in eight innings, earning the win. South Carolina got tough. Ole Miss did not.
“They out-toughed us. I think that’s what it came down to. They showed more confidence and more swagger throughout the game,” Bortles said.
The Gamecocks added one in the second on a Chris Cullen RBI single, and two more in the third to take a 3-2 lead.
“We just kind of looked shellshocked after that. We really didn’t put many at bats together,” Bianco said. “We just couldn’t bounce back, and they showed a lot of toughness in their team bouncing back, and we showed no toughness through the middle innings.”
It would be hard to argue against that. Ole Miss went the next five innings without a base runner. Webb fanned nine of the 14 looking as he flashed a breaking ball that had the Ole Miss hitters off balance all night.
“He was really good tonight. He had a really good breaking ball that we saw on tape, but it’s kind of different when you see it in person,” Bortles said.
The Gamecocks would add two more in the fifth and ran Smith out of the game, marking the second consecutive day the Ole Miss starting pitcher could not get out of the fifth inning.
“Today he was just inconsistent,” Bianco said. “They’re tough. They get so many hits with runners in scoring position. They get so many hits with two strikes. They really compete and battle.”
Feigl came on in relief of Smith, giving up three runs in 3.2 innings of work. He kept the Gamecocks off of the board until the eighth inning, when they got one, and was pulled from the game in the ninth as South Carolina would add on three more to deliver its knockout blow.
Ole Miss came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth trailing 9-2, and the bats finally showed a little life. Bortles delivered his second RBI double of the game that scored Woodman to make it 9-3. After an RBI groundout from pinch hitter Ray Alejo, Michael Fitzsimmons made it 9-5 on a double down the left field line, but it was to no avail as South Carolina stopped the bleeding there and finished off the 9-5 win.
“I’d like to evaluate it a little and put it in the books,” Bianco said. “This was not a good one for us.”
Ole Miss is TBA on its third starter and Bianco was not ready to name one after the game. First pitch tomorrow is set for 2 p.m.