COLUMBIA -- Even though the series was already in No. 10 South Carolina's hip pocket, it's not as if Sunday's series finale against Mississippi was detached from emotion. Quite the opposite, actually.

Among the notables: Coaches yelling at umpires; coaches yelling at players; players yelling at coaches; players yelling at players; players yelling at fans; fans yelling at players.

Yeah, that about covers it.

It was all part of Ole Miss' 5-4 sweep-avoiding victory in front of 7,585 charged-up fans at Carolina Stadium.

Where's the love? The tension, making you shift-around-in-your-seat uncomfortable, was in direct contrast to the glorious, picture-perfect spring backdrop in the capital city.

USC coach Ray Tanner shrugged the soap opera off, several times, as "just baseball."

But it's rare to see an opposing player inciting the baseball masses. And even more rare to see coaches having confrontations during games with anyone other than the umpires.

But both of those things played out in the late going Sunday.

With the 14th-ranked Rebels (24-13, 8-7 SEC) holding that one-run lead, Whit Merrifield led off the seventh inning with a bunt single and reached second on a throwing error.

Jackie Bradley Jr.'s fly ball to center figured to be deep enough to get Merrifield to third. It was, and Merrifield went sliding headfirst into the base. Only problem was, Ole Miss third baseman Zach Miller's foot was on the bag.

Merrifield's head crunched into Miller's knee. Merrifield, USC's most consistent hitter, came up woozy.

Complicating the play, Miller stayed on third even though the throw to the base was cut off by the shortstop. There was little reason for him to stay, literally, on top of the bag.

Tanner trotted out to check on Merrifield -- and he also didn't mind letting Miller hear his displeasure about the play.

When Tanner started in on Miller the second time, Miller responded by instructing Tanner to concern himself with Merrifield and not him.

That exchange brought out Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco from the nearby dugout.

Tanner and Bianco, initially angrily, discussed the play as an umpire presided.

"It got pretty heated," said Merrifield, who had some whiplash from the play but stayed in the game. "Coach Tanner's always the kind of guy to have your back. He's a bulldog. Whether he yells at us or not, he's got our backs. It's comforting to know."

In the top of the eighth, Rebels cleanup hitter Matt Smith -- who had hit a two-run homer in the fifth to chase USC starter Jay Brown -- led off the inning with a groundout. After stepping on first, he went over toward the USC dugout and began responding to barbs from the fans in the stands.

He waved his arms at the fans and jawed at them. The Gamecocks (28-8, 11-4) were also directly in front of him, leaning on the dugout fencing. Seconds later, near the South Carolina on-deck circle, he said something else to some other fans and pointed toward the scoreboard.

"That wasn't too cool," Merrifield said. "He was fired up. We were fired up. He let his emotions get the best of him."

Smith stayed in the game and there were no further incidents. The teams exchanged customary high-fives afterward. Tanner and Bianco also patched things up behind the plate.

As if all that weren't enough, Gamecocks pitching coach Mark Calvi was tossed in the second inning for yelling at home plate ump Ray Gregson about the strike zone.

Tanner seemed to insinuate that Calvi was deserving of the ejection. Without him, Tanner and assistant Sammy Esposito called the game.

As for actual baseball, senior outfielder David Phillips' solo home run off USC reliever John Taylor to start the seventh broke the 4-4 tie.

Despite some hard-hit balls, the Gamecocks left a runner in scoring position in the seventh and eighth innings.

Drama and Sunday's loss aside, it was still a positive weekend for the Gamecocks, who managed victories in the first two games - when the Rebels went with two starters that had sub-2.00 ERAs and one combined loss 16 previous starts.

South Carolina hung in Friday night against Ole Miss left-hander Drew Pomeranz, an All-America candidate, eventually breaking through late against the Rebels' bullpen in a 5-0 victory.

On Saturday, USC slugged out a 9-5 win against right-hander Aaron Barrett, whose ERA went from 1.90 to 3.07 after he was hit for seven runs in the first two innings.

The loss Sunday meant the Gamecocks dropped a game behind Arkansas for the SEC lead, but they're still on top in the Eastern Division race. They host USC Upstate on Tuesday before heading to woeful Georgia this weekend.

"If you could've signed up for this, would you?" Tanner said, referring to that 11-4 start halfway through league play. "Absolutely."

E--Hamblin, Morales. LOB--MISS 4, USC 9. 2B--Jones. HR--Smith, Phillips, Matthews, Wingo. SH--Hightower, Mort, Morales.

HBP--by Brown (Hamblin); by Goforth (Ebert); by Tracy (Enders). PB--Hightower.

Time--2:54. Att--7,585.

Reach Travis Haney at thaney@postandcourier.com, check out the Gamecocks blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/gamecocks and follow him on Twitter (@gamecocksblog).