Sunday, May 7, 2017

Wrapping up the weekend, May 7

Series of the weekend
Winthrop goes 3-0 vs. Gardner-Webb

The Eagles (26-18, 13-5) tightened their hold on first place in the Big South Conference by winning three close games. Winthrop trailed 6-4 in Friday's opener before scoring a run in the seventh and another in the ninth to force extra innings. The Eagles then scored the winner in the 10th. A brilliant outing by starting pitcher Nate Pawelczyk set up a 3-1 win on Saturday and Matthew Mulkey's two-run single in the seventh was the margin of a a 3-1 victory on Sunday.

Game of the day
LSU 7, South Carolina 6, 10 innings

South Carolina's school-record streak of SEC series losses reached six consecutive weekends (1-2 each time) with Sunday's loss down on the bayou. Alex Destino's three-run homer in a four-run fifth inning staked the Gamecocks (27-19, 11-13) to a 5-3 lead, but USC's bullpen once again failed to make a late lead stand up. The tying run scored in the eighth when an LSU batter was ruled safe on a slow infield bouncer. The first-base umpire ruled the throw pulled Gamecocks first baseman Matt Williams's foot off the bag. USC coach Chad Holbrook immediately came out to protest the call, unsuccessfully. Several camera angles on the play appeared to be inconclusive. Perhaps the strongest argument in USC's favor was that Williams never appeared to reach back to try to find the bag again, as is sometimes the case in such plays. The Gamecocks scored a run in the ninth to go up 6-5, only to give the run back in the bottom of the inning. USC had a runner thrown out trying to score in the top of the 10th, then LSU scored the winner in the bottom of the inning. The Gamecocks still have a solid RPI, but would need to go 4-2 over the final two weekends (at Missouri, at home vs. Georgia) to finish at .500 in the league and bolster their NCAA Tournament chances. SEC teams rarely get passed over for an NCAA Tournament bid if they finish at .500 in conference play.

Elsewhere across the Palmetto State:
* Florence-Darlington Tech (38-17)  moved within one win of qualifying for the NJCAA playoffs by beating Spartanburg Methodist on Saturday and USC Lancaster on Sunday in the Region 10 Tournament. SMC (36-19) kept its season alive with a five-inning 16-3 rout of regular-season champ USCL (39-15) in an elimination game. The Pioneers and Stingers play at noon Monday in Burlington, N.C. FD Tech advances with a win. SMC must beat the Stingers twice Monday to win the tournament.

* Coastal Carolina (30-16-1, 16-7) didn't stumble at last-place Louisiana Monroe (12-37, 6-18) in sweeping a three-game Sun Belt Conference road series. The Chanticleers needed 12 innings for a 7-5 victory in Friday's opener, but weren't seriously challenged in the final two games.

* A little over four weeks ago I was on a sports radio show discussing Furman's prospects of finishing .500 in the Southern Conference race after a 1-8 start in the league. The Paladins (25-22, 12-9) promptly won their next 11 conference games before losing to Samford, 4-3, in Sunday's series finale. Nate Schuermann and Will Gaddis pitched complete games in Saturday's doubleheader sweep. Sunday starter Matthew Quarles was done in by one bad inning, allowing two home runs during a four-run third inning that wiped out a 3-0 Furman lead.  Sunday's loss, coupled with UNC Greensboro's win over VMI, knocked Furman back into fourth place in the SoCon entering the Paladins' final league series against VMI next weekend.

The Citadel (14-30, 5-13) improved their chances of not finishing in last place in the SoCon with a pair of wins over East Tennessee State (21-25, 3-15) before losing Sunday's series finale, 10-9, in 10 innings. The Bulldogs used a five-run eighth to turn a 7-3 deficit into an 8-7 lead going to the ninth. ETSU scored two in the top of the inning, but The Citadel tied the score to force extra innings. The Bulldogs didn't close the gap on VMI (6-12 SoCon) in a bid to escape the SoCon Tournament's play-in game because the Keydets went 2-1 against UNC Greensboro this weekend.

* USC Upstate (21-26, 5-10) got a pair of walk-off wins over Atlantic Sun Conference co-leader North Florida in a 2-1 series victory.

* Clemson (35-12) split its first two games of an out-of-conference series with Nevada.  ACC Atlantic Division leader Louisville has stretched its lead over the Tigers to four games entering next weekend's three-game series at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. That means Clemson can't catch the Cardinals in the standings by sweeping the series. One more week of ACC play remains May18-20.  Tigers catcher Chris Williams, who was injured in Saturday's game, did not play Sunday.

* USC Aiken (38-11) tuned up for this week's Peach Belt Conference Tournament with wins over Wingate and South Atlantic Conference regular-season champion Catawba.

* As a result of losing two of three at Western Carolina, Wofford (25-23, 10-8) fell into fourth place, a half-game behind Furman, in the SoCon standings.

* College of Charleston (22-25, 12-9) suffered a three-game sweep at William & Mary, but is just 1 1/2 games behind co-leaders W&M and UNC Wilmington (both 12-6 in the league). But Northeastern (11-7), Delaware (10-8) and Elon (11-10) are still in the race, too. The Cougars could finish as low as sixth in the league.

* Claflin (16-33) failed in its bid to repeat as SIAC Tournament Champion, losing to Albany State on Saturday. But the Panthers did eliminate Benedict (25-16) on Friday.

* Because of a schedule backed up by rain on Thursday, Albany State played three games in a span of 16 1/2 hours on Saturday (and early Sunday) in the SIAC Tournament. Game 1 started at 8:56 a.m. Saturday and Game 3 ended at 1:30 a.m. Sunday. LeMoyne-Owen, which beat Albany State in the third game, faced the prospect of a three-game Sunday but lost to Miles College in its second game of the day.

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