Walker and Price help No. 2 Gamecocks salvage split vs. No. 9 LSU in key SEC series
COLUMBIA — The high stakes during a long day and night at Carolina Stadium included first place in the SEC East, the top seed in next week’s SEC tournament, national seeds in the NCAA tournament and maybe a No. 1 ranking.
No. 2 South Carolina, with a rally sparked by Christian Walker’s three-run homer and vintage pitching from star closer Matt Price, won the second game of a three-game series, 5-4, Friday night.
“I was just looking for something to help my team and generate some momentum,” Walker said of his sixth-inning blast off LSU starter Aaron Nola. “I wanted to put some runs on the board.”
Earlier Friday, No. 9 LSU won Game 1 of a split doubleheader, 5-2, thanks to a “Major League” performance from sophomore right-hander Kevin Gausman.
South Carolina ace Michael Roth (5-1) suffered his first loss of the season.
South Carolina is 39-14 overall and 18-10 in the SEC.
LSU is 41-13 overall and 18-11 in the SEC.
Kentucky (18-11) lost late Friday night at Mississippi State, 4-3. The Gamecocks will clinch the SEC regular season title with a win today when the series with LSU concludes with a 1 p.m. game (ESPNU).
Head coach Ray Tanner said Friday night he still is unsure about his Game 3 pitcher: either Colby Holmes, Jordan Montgomery or Evan Beal.
The SEC tournament starts Tuesday in Hoover, Ala.
“I don’t think we’re worrying about the SEC or who’s going to be No. 1 or national seeding,” Price said. “Just the next pitch, the next at-bat.”
Walker’s homer tied the second game, 3-3, and Joey Pankake’s RBI triple gave South Carolina a 4-3 lead in the sixth.
Price came on in the seventh to extinguish trouble left by Beal’s two walks; Price induced a pop out on Alex Edward’s bunt attempt and followed with two strikeouts in one of his best high-wire acts of the season.
Earning a save, Price struck out seven in three innings.
“That’s been his history,” Tanner said. “He’s special.”
Adam Matthews gave South Carolina a 5-3 lead with an RBI double off the top of left-field wall in the seventh inning. It was a critical insurance run, but probably was a homer; replays seemed to indicate the ball actually hit a railing above the fence.
“Obviously, I guess, all you guys are saying it was a home run,” Matthews said. “It is what it is … We’ll go with a double. The way I’m playing this year, I’ll take a double.”
Gausman was dominant as advertised in the first game.
Amazingly, he improved to 9-1 and lowered his earned run average to 2.86 throwing “only” 93-96 mph. He has been clocked this season at 99.
“I tell you, the kid looks like a Major League pitcher to me,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said.
“He doesn’t need much time (in the minors). Not only does he have a great repertoire of pitches; he knows how to use them. He has command.”
Gausman had six strikeouts while allowing only five hits with two walks in his second complete game of the year.
Roth went eight innings, leaving down 3-1 after giving up 10 hits.
LSU’s Mason Katz hit a solo home run off Roth and Jordy Snikeris hit a two-run shot off reliever Patrick Sullivan. Pankake knocked in both South Carolina runs with a single in the fourth and another in the ninth.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 953-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff