COLUMBIA — South Carolina may have found a starting pitcher Thursday. But against the defending national champions, the Gamecocks needed much, much more.
Vince Fiori was solid in his first career start in place of injured ace Wil Crowe, lost for the remainder of the season with a torn ligament in his throwing elbow. But there wasn’t enough bullpen help, there weren’t enough hits against the SEC’s best pitcher, and there was only so much USC could do to slow fifth-ranked Vanderbilt, which feasted on Gamecocks relievers in a 12-0 victory on a damp and gloomy night at Carolina Stadium.
The loss was the fifth straight for South Carolina (23-16, 6-10 SEC), which is in the midst of its longest skid since a five-game slide last April, and has been outscored 50-10 in its last four SEC games. The Gamecocks need to win Saturday’s 7 p.m. contest to avoid dropping their fifth consecutive conference series since sweeping Kentucky on the opening weekend of league play.
“The frustration has piled up, that’s for sure. We just need somebody to step up and make a play and do something in dramatic fashion, and maybe we’ll move on. We just keep waiting for that to happen, and it hasn’t happened yet,” said USC head coach Chad Holbrook.
“Obviously, morale is low. It’s disheartening, in many ways.”
Vanderbilt (29-10, 12-4) entered on the heels of its first three-game losing skid in three years, but bounced back behind ace Carson Fulmer, who struck out nine and allowed three hits over seven shutout innings. Bryan Reynolds drove in three runs on three hits, while three USC errors allowed five unearned runs to score.
Fiori, a starter last summer in the Cape Cod League, had been USC’s best reliever. With Crowe awaiting Tommy John surgery which will keep him out for the rest of this season and all of next, Holbrook turned to the junior left-hander to fill a needed gap in the Gamecocks’ starting rotation.
And for five innings, Fiori delivered. He allowed an unearned run in the first after Rhett Wiseman walked, stole second, reached third on an error and came home on a wild pitch, but after that the New Jersey native kept the Commodores at bay until a Ro Coleman double to open the sixth ended the longest outing of his USC career.
“Vince hadn’t been stretched out that much all year long,” Holbrook said. “When his pitch count got to about 80, he was about done.”
After Fiori exited to robust applause from USC fans, the Gamecocks wilted. A Max Schrock throwing error allowed two unearned runs to score in a four-run sixth, and Vanderbilt blew it open with a four-run seventh that included a Coleman homer. What had been a 1-0 game after five innings quickly turned into a rout.
“We were right there for the first half of the game,” said USC third baseman D.C. Arendas. “They outplayed us the second half. We’ve got to play a complete game. Obviously, that’s something we’ve kind of struggled with.”
The lone bright spot for the Gamecocks was Fiori, who was charged with one earned run and struck out five in 5.1 innings, and seems likely to maintain a spot in the starting rotation. “Vince was terrific,” Holbrook said. “I was hoping for three to five innings, and he gave us a little bit more than that. He kept them at bay, for the most part.”