COLUMBIA -- Everybody in Carolina Stadium watched the ball leave Patrick Sullivan's right hand. The fans cheered, anticipating South Carolina's first no-hitter since 1975. The players, wary of jinxing it, tried to do the exact opposite, because, "you don't want to blame yourself because you were thinking about it," said first baseman Christian Walker.
There were two outs in the ninth inning and a 1-0 count on Elon shortstop Garrett Koster, who is from just up on the road in Fort Mill.
In an instant, the cheers fell silent and everybody's eyes turned toward the Friday night sky. The ball pinged off Koster's bat and soared over the left-field wall, ending in stunning fashion what would have been the seventh no-hitter in school history, and the first combined no-hitter.
Sullivan, a junior who had thrown 26 career innings and none this season before Friday, got the next batter to pop out. USC's players trotted out to the mound and exchanged high-fives after an 8-1 victory -- a muted celebration compared to what might have been.
USC's starter, ace Michael Roth, threw seven innings, struck out seven batters and walked three. But this was the season's fourth game, and USC's starters are still limited to 90 pitches. Coach Ray Tanner let Roth throw 99 before replacing him with Nolan Belcher to begin the eighth.
In the dugout after the seventh, Roth said, "There wasn't much of a conversation. Coach Tanner just said, 'Good night.' I just asked him a couple times if he was sure."
Roth said Tanner simply responded, "Yeah."
Tanner said after the game that he wanted to pull Roth an inning earlier. Tanner was wary about his best pitcher overexerting himself in a meaningless early season game.
"In a different circumstance, Michael Roth would still be out there to have a chance to determine (the no-hitter)," Tanner said.
Before the game, Tanner had Belcher's and Sullivan's names written on a board listing the available relievers. Even with a lofty accomplishment on the line, Tanner went with Belcher in the eighth, Sullivan in the ninth.
"Maybe it's a fault of mine that I really wasn't engrossed in that," Tanner said of the no-hitter. "I wanted to win the game, and if it happens, it happens. We weren't going to try to do anything differently to see that it happened."
Roth handled it not happening with his usual good humor. He said he couldn't remember if he ever threw a no-hitter. He jokingly called out a beat reporter by name for arriving late at the postgame press conference. He swore the no-hitter's demise couldn't fall on Sullivan's shoulders because somebody must have talked about it in the dugout during the game -- a baseball faux pas.
"A couple guys mentioned the bat boy," Roth said.
Roth even plans to kid Sullivan about the game's wild ending, but said, "He's a little sulky still."
The whole night was quite the trip for Roth -- who has greater accomplishments to chase this season -- since the game was delayed from 3 p.m. to 6:15 because of rain.