3 lessons learned as South Carolina tops Mississippi State for third SEC series win

No. 9 South Carolina bounced back from its first SEC loss of the season to win Saturday’s rubber game at Mississippi State.

The 14-5 win gives the Gamecocks (26-3, 8-1 SEC) their third straight SEC series win to open conference play — with a home series against No. 1 LSU looming.

The Bulldogs (16-13, 1-8) gave USC scare by taking a late 4-3 lead against the bullpen, but powerful freshman Ethan Petry hit a three-run double in the eighth to take back control of the game for USC, then the Gamecocks tacked on seven runs in an explosive ninth for good measure.

Here are three observations from the series.

Gamecocks respond well to adversity

Off to their best start since 1975, the Gamecocks were bound to slow down eventually, and they turned in one of their worst performances of the season in Game 2, losing 13-3 in a 10-run rule shortened game. It was the kind of game where nothing went right for USC: starter Noah Hall didn’t have his best stuff, the USC infield committed a pair of errors and head coach Mark Kingston was ejected for arguing a call.

Friday was a rare moment of adversity for USC, but a positive sign for the Gamecocks was how they responded the next day, jumping back out to an immediate lead over the Bulldogs in a much more competitive effort Saturday.

For the second straight day, leadoff hitter Braylen Wimmer opened the game with a first-pitch home run, and two-hole hitter Gavin Casas followed with a homer of his own to give the Gamecocks an early jolt. Even when MSU rallied back to take a 4-3 lead in the sixth, USC reclaimed the lead in a hurry, thanks to Petry’s double in the eighth.

Injuries open up opportunities

The Gamecocks have lost two regulars in the past week — leading to some moving and shaking in the starting lineup. Second baseman Will McGillis suffered a broken arm against Missouri last weekend, leading to a four-to-six week absence, while outfielder Carson Hornung didn’t play at Mississippi State due to a fracture in his foot.

Those injuries have led to increased opportunities, most notably for Michael Braswell and Dylan Brewer. The team’s starting shortstop last year as a true freshman, Braswell started this year on the bench. But with McGillis on the shelf, Braswell stepped in as the starting second baseman in all three games in Starkville. The sophomore hit an RBI double and tallied a pair of hits in Thursday’s opener and picked up another hit in the finale.

Brewer, a transfer from Clemson, might have some staying power in the outfield for the Gamecocks after a strong series. Brewer tallied five hits on the weekend, including a solo home run in Saturday’s game.

USC has pitching decisions to make

One of the major storylines entering the series was the removal of ace Will Sanders from the weekend rotation on the heels of his worst outing of the season against Missouri. With the series starting a day earlier than normal, the shift in timing gave the Gamecocks an opportunity to rest their struggling ace — but will they go back to him next weekend against LSU? Considering Sanders didn’t pitch at all out of the bullpen in Starkville, re-entering the rotation seems like the most likely outcome.

But sophomore Eli Jones, who earned the start in Sanders’ place Thursday, certainly didn’t seem overwhelmed by the moment of making his first SEC start in a raucous road environment at Dudy Noble Field. Though he threw just four innings on a limited pitch count, Jones gave up just one run on three hits, struck out two and touched 94 miles per hour with his sinking fastball. Whether he starts or not, Jones might’ve pitched his way into a more prominent role on the weekends.

Next four USC games

Tuesday: vs. North Carolina at Truist Field in Charlotte, 7 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)

Thursday: vs. LSU, 7 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)

Friday: vs. LSU, 7 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)

Saturday: vs. LSU, 12 p.m. (SEC Network)