TJ Hopkins’ pinch-hit three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning helped lift South Carolina to a 3-1 win over Kentucky to advance the Gamecocks to the semifinals of the 2017 SEC Tournament. The Gamecocks are now 35-24 on the year with Kentucky falling to 39-20 for the season.
Trailing 1-0 entering the seventh inning, the Gamecocks mounted a rally as Alex Destino got things started with a leadoff walk against UK reliever Logan Salow. After a sacrifice bunt by Jonah Bride moved pinch runner Christian Flint into scoring position, Carolina caught a break as Jacob Olson reached base on a fielding error by Kentucky third baseman Luke Becker. With runners on first and second, head coach Chad Holbrook called on Hopkins, who lifted a 2-0 pitch from Salow over the wall in left field for his fifth home run of the season to give Carolina a 3-1 lead.
The Wildcats would threaten in both the eighth and ninth innings, but the Carolina bullpen held them off. With two outs and runners on second and third base in the eighth inning, senior right-hander Reed Scott induced a groundout by T.J. Collett to maintain the two-run advantage. In the top of the ninth with a runner on first and one out, Tyler Johnson closed out the game as he struck out Connor Heady and got the 27th out on a grounder to Matt Williams off the bat of Tristan Pompey to seal the victory.
Senior left-hander Josh Reagan earned the win in relief. He is now 6-2 for the season. He pitched 1.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. Johnson earned his 10th save of the season. Salow took the loss for Kentucky and is 2-5 on the year after allowing three runs, two earned, on one hit in 1.2 innings of work.
Kentucky went ahead 1-0 in the top of the first tinning with an unearned run. Pompey led off with a single and advanced to second as the sun played havoc on a ball hit to right field off the bat of Evan White that Jacob Olson couldn’t corral. After a sacrifice bunt, Pompey would score on Luke Becker’s RBI groundout.
Hopkins’ three-run homer was South Carolina’s first pinch-hit homer of the season and gave the Gamecocks a two-run lead.
Adam Hill, Josh Reagan, Reed Scott and Tyler Johnson limited Kentucky to one unearned run on six hits with seven strikeouts to just four walks.
Friday’s win was South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook’s 200th career victory.
South Carolina had a pair of pickoffs. Adam Hill had his team-leading fourth pickoff in the season in the fourth inning. Josh Reagan had his third pickoff of the season in the seventh inning.
Despite a no-decision, Hill gave the Gamecocks a quality start. He allowed just one unearned run on three hits in six-plus innings with six strikeouts to three walks.
Hopkins’ pinch-hit homer was the first since Matt Williams in 2016 for the Gamecocks vs. Rhode Island in the NCAA Regional and it is the first pinch-hit homer in the SEC Tournament since Julian Infante of Vanderbilt hit one in 2016.
Five different Gamecocks have homered this week – Carlos Cortes (3), Jonah Bride (2), Justin Row, Alex Destino and TJ Hopkins.
South Carolina advanced to the semifinals at the SEC Tournament for the first time since the 2007 season. South Carolina is 3-1 in the tournament for the first time since the 2002 season.
QUOTABLE FROM HEAD COACH CHAD HOLBROOK
“That was an incredible game and an incredible win for our team. This was a big game against a great Kentucky team. For us to hold them to one run is amazing. Our pitchers were outstanding. Adam got us off to a great start. Josh, Reed and then the big man Tyler at the end of the game was special. Just a big win. TJ stepped up in the seventh. That is the beauty of baseball. You can win or los the game sometimes with one swing of the bat and we have lost a few to one swing of the bat this year. It was good to see us get one back today I am happy for TJ. He has pretty much been hurt all year long. He stepped up into a big spot when our season was on the line. I couldn’t be happier for our kids.”
South Carolina will face second seeded LSU in the semifinals on Saturday afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET. It will be televised live on the SEC Network and can be heard on the Gamecock IMG Network including flagship station, 107.5 FM, “The Game.”