ATHENS – Alex Wood didn’t make many mistakes. But when he did, South Carolina made him pay.
Georgia’s crafty left-hander had allowed only five base runners and one solid base hit all night when Gamecocks third baseman L.B. Dantzler turned on an inside pitch and launched it off the top of the scoreboard in right field for a home run and 1-0 lead in the seventh.
South Carolina scratched across another run in the eighth on a two-out single by Evan Marzilli — the inning ended with Marzilli getting thrown out at second base — and scored again on a two-out, two-strike squeeze bunt in the ninth. It was was a stunning display of opportunism at its finest.
On the flipside, Georgia left nine runners on base, stranded the bases loaded in the sixth and left empty-handed after getting back-to-back singles to start the ninth. It was the epitome of wastefulness.
Therein was the difference. Two-time defending national champion South Carolina 3, Georgia 0.
“We never answered all day,” Georgia coach David Perno. “We had an opportunity to strike first. We didn’t. Then we could never answer them late. You have to tip your cap to South Carolina.”
Those busy final frames punctuated an impressive pitching duel between Georgia’s Wood (6-2, 2.61 ERA), the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week, and South Carolina left-hander Michael Roth (5-0, 2.60).
Wood struck out five in the first two innings. Before the seventh he had given up two bloopers and a pair of infield singles among five hits. But the homer, a ninth-inning triple and the squeeze bunt all came with two strikes.
At the end of it, Wood pitched all nine innings with nine hits, six strikeout and no walks. Yet he suffered his first loss since UCLA on March 9.
“That’s what good teams do,” Wood said. “That’s why they’re back-to-back national champions. They don’t do anything extra special. They just play good baseball and do things the right way.”
“He was great; he was phenomenal,” Perno said of Wood. “I mean, you’ve got to back him. That’s the thing. We shut them out for six innings and we have opportunities and we’re not stepping through.”
Roth wasn’t too bad himself. He had five walks but gave up just six hits in seven innings and half of his six strikeouts came in the sixth when he pitched out of a bases loaded jam.
That’s when the game changed. The Bulldogs loaded the bases on a pair of one-out walks and a bloop single by hard-luck second baseman Levi Hyams. But center fielder Peter Verdin, who struck out with Brett DeLoach on third base in the fourth inning, fanned again. Heath Holder followed and also struck out against Roth, who retired the side with Ks.
“Unfortunately this season we’ve been really bad with the bases loaded,” Perno said. “. It’s been that way all year. Obviously it’s in our head a little bit. We’ve struggled with it and we’ve fought it.”
The Bulldogs threatened in the ninth when Hyams and Verdin opened with back-to-back singles. But pinch hitter Nelson Ward popped out in foul territory and Colby May and Connor Welton struck out against South Carolina’s Matt Price. The Bulldogs also left eight runners stranded in Tuesday’s 8-6 loss to Georgia Tech.
The good news for Georgia was Hyams, who has been in a season-long slump, managed to reach on a pair of singles up the middle.
The Gamecocks improve to 38-12 and 17-8 in the SEC. The Bulldogs fall to 28-22 overall and 12-13. Now tied for sixth in the league, Georgia likely needs to finish at least .500 in conference play and earn one of the 10 spots in the SEC tournament to earn an NCAA tournament bid.
Game Two is Saturday at 1 p.m. and will match Georgia’s Michael Palazzone (2-5, 5.45) against South Carolina’s Jordan Montgomery (4-1, 3.98).
“We’ve got to lean on Michael,” Perno said. “He’s got to get us off to a good start. He’s capable. He’s done it his whole career, pitching in the clutch for us. But they’ve got a scary lineup and we’ve got to hope we can break through offensively.”