Gamecocks suffer early exit

Auburn's Justin Fradejas (right) congratulates Trent Mummey after he hit a go-ahead two-run single against South Carolina in the 12th inning during the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament.

MARK ALMOND

HOOVER, Ala. -- After being the first team eliminated from the SEC tournament, South Carolina has to hope to find some bats on the bus ride home to Columbia before the start of the NCAA tournament next week.

Auburn defeated South Carolina, 3-1, in 12 innings Thursday afternoon at Regions Park, which meant the Gamecocks managed to score one run in 21 innings at the tournament.

Coming on the heels of a 3-0 loss to Mississippi on Wednesday, No. 10 USC (43-15) likely will get the opportunity to return to the cozier confines of Carolina Stadium as an NCAA regional host, but consecutive defeats probably killed the Gamecocks' chances of being a top-eight national seed and receiving an opportunity to host a Super Regional should they advance.

Wasting strong pitching performances from starter Blake Cooper and reliever Matt Price, the Gamecocks left the potential winning run in scoring position in the eighth, 10th and 11th innings, as Auburn closer Austin Hubbard (5-2) slammed the door with 4 2/3 scoreless innings.

USC coach Ray Tanner lamented his team's inability to deliver a clutch hit for the second consecutive day.

"We haven't been a great offensive team the entire year, but we haven't been this bad either," he said.

In 21 innings spanning two games, the Gamecocks managed 14 hits, 12 of them singles. Only a solo homer by catcher Brady Thomas off Auburn starter Grant Dayton in the seventh inning, which tied the game at 1, prevented USC from being the victim of back-to-back shutouts.

Whit Merrifield and Jackie Bradley Jr., the top two hitters in the batting order, combined for five of USC's seven hits Thursday, while the rest of the lineup was a combined 2 for 32.

"It's pretty frustrating," Merrifield said. "Obviously, you want to come through in those situations, but you're not going to all the time. We had a couple of opportunities with runners in scoring position through the whole game, and we didn't take advantage of it. Our pitchers did an unbelievable job keeping us in the game, and we couldn't capitalize for them."

Tanner will put his team through the paces starting today at USC with two-a-day practices and simulated game situations, with the focus being on runners in scoring position. He wants to reverse a trend that began with two losses to Florida.

"We had some clutch situations where we didn't have quality at-bats," Tanner said of Thursday's marathon.

Thursday's game still might be going on if not for a miscue by second baseman Scott Wingo that led to Auburn's winning rally in the 12th. Wingo lost the handle on a grounder with a runner on first and one out as he tried to start a double play. Two batters and one walk later, Trent Mummey hit a two-run single off Price, which made sure the No. 13 Tigers (40-18), the tournament's second seed, would advance.

Price had hoped he could pitch around the error. "I was trying to get a ground ball on my next pitch and force a double play.

But Price, who was pitching in his fourth inning, could not do that. And his teammates couldn't scratch out any runs to support him or Cooper, who lowered his ERA to 2.94 with 7 2/3 strong innings in which he allowed eight hits and no walks while striking out six.

Tanner saw one positive in the two losses.

"I'm ecstatic with what our pitching staff has done. They have kept us in position for a long, long time."

E--Wingo. DP--USC 1. LOB--Auburn 11, USC 12. 2B--Caldwell, Bradley. HR--Simpson, Thomas. SH--Walker. SB--Mummey. CS--McElroy.

WP--Hubbard 2. HBP--by Cooper (Fletcher); by Dayton (Thomas). Time--3:12. Att: NA.