Walk it off: Ninth-inning rally powers USC past Missouri in Top 25 battle

No. 11 South Carolina was seemingly headed to its first SEC loss of the season — down to its final out against visiting No. 22 Missouri.

But the scrappy Gamecock offense didn’t stop fighting. Down by three runs, USC managed to load the bases against Mizzou reliever Zach Franklin in the bottom of the ninth. Veteran Caleb Denny cut the deficit to one with a two-run single to center field. Then, pinch-hitter Jonathan French somehow find a hole in the right side of the infield for an RBI, game-tying single.

One batter later, the Gamecocks sealed a walk-off victory. Michael Braswell hit a grounder to the left side, and the Mizzou shortstop threw the ball away trying to make an inning-ending out at third. The Gamecocks sealed a 9-8 walkoff win on the play, sending USC’s players spilling out of the first-base dugout to the delight of a sellout crowd at Founders Park.

Friday’s game was a sluggish, offensive affair — with both lineups trading blows. Fresh off a weekend sweep of then-No. 2 Tennessee, Mizzou (17-4, 3-1 SEC) nearly completed an impressive comeback of its own, with third baseman Luke Mann homering three times and driving in six runs.

USC junior Will Sanders scuffled through his worst outing of the season, struggling to find the strike zone with just 37 of his 78 pitches landing for strikes. In 3.1 innings, Sanders walked six, hit a batter and gave up five runs on a two-run home run and three-run home run — both to Mann. The long ball has been an issue for Sanders dating back to last season, when he allowed 14 in 15 starts. So far this season, Sanders has given up seven homers in six starts.

Mizzou ace Chandler Murphy didn’t fare much better, giving up a grand slam to Will McGillis in the second inning and a solo shot to freshman Ethan Petry in the third. He left the game in the middle of an at-bat in the fourth inning due to an apparent injury. Murphy pointed to the dugout and called for an athletic trainer immediately after finishing a pitch.

From there, reliever Rorik Maltrud was electric in relief of Murphy, recording his first seven outs via strikeout and allowing no runs and two hits in 3.1 innings to earn the win.

For USC, reliever James Hicks allowed the go-ahead run on a two-out RBI single to second baseman Trevor Austin in the sixth. And Matthew Becker allowed two runs in the eighth, including Mann’s third home run of the night — a towering blast to right field.

Next four USC baseball games

Saturday: vs. No. 22 Missouri, 4 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)

Sunday: vs. No. 22 Missouri, 12 p.m. (SEC Network)

Thursday: at The Citadel, 7 p.m. (ESPN Plus)

March 30: at Mississippi State, 7 p.m. (SEC Network)