The University of Kentucky baseball team held South Carolina to two hits on Friday.
That proved to be one too many.
South Carolina pinch hitter T.J. Hopkins hit a go-ahead, three-run home run off Kentucky closer Logan Salow to send the Gamecocks to a 3-1 victory in the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Friday.
No. 3 seed Kentucky (39-20) was eliminated from the tournament in Hoover, Ala., and its chances at a national seed — and possibly hosting a super regional — were put in jeopardy.
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The NCAA Tournament gets underway next Friday.
No. 11 seed South Carolina (35-24) moved on to the semifinals, where it will face No. 2 seed LSU (41-17) on Saturday. No. 1 seed Florida (42-15) will face Friday night’s Arkansas-Mississippi State winner in the other semifinal. The semifinals and finals are elimination games.
The Gamecocks avenged a 7-2 loss to Kentucky in the second round on Wednesday night.
Kentucky was clinging to an early 1-0 lead until the bottom of the seventh. Salow, who relieved UK starter Justin Lewis one inning earlier after he allowed his first hit, walked the leadoff batter, and third baseman Luke Becker’s second error of the game put two runners on.
Hopkins, batting for catcher Hunter Taylor, crushed a hanging slider that left fielder Zach Reks watched sail over the wall for a 3-1 South Carolina lead. It was Hopkins’ fifth homer of the season.
Kentucky put two runners on base in the top of the eighth, but they were left stranded when T.J. Collett — the second pinch hitter announced during the at-bat — grounded out against South Carolina reliever Reed Scott to end the inning.
In the ninth, Marcus Carson reached on a one-out error by South Carolina first baseman Matt Williams to give the Cats life.
South Carolina Coach Chad Holbrook summoned hard-throwing right-hander Tyler Johnson from the bullpen, and he struck out Connor Heady and induced a game-ending grounder by Tristan Pompey.
During an in-game interview with the SEC Network, Kentucky Coach Nick Mingione bemoaned the Cats’ missed chances. Those included two runners — including pinch runner Zeke Lewis in the seventh inning — getting picked off first base.
“We had opportunities … huge opportunities,” Mingione said. “You gotta give (South Carolina starting pitcher Adam Hill) credit. He was making pitches when it mattered. I like the way our guys are competing with two strikes.”
Lewis deserved a better fate. The Kentucky right-hander had all three pitches working — fastball, slider and his signature changeup — through 5 1/3 innings. Justin Row’s single to right in the bottom of the sixth ended Lewis’ no-hit bid — and his night.
In the middle of the next hitter’s at-bat, Mingione pulled Lewis from the game after 90 pitches. With a 1-2 count against Carlos Cortes, Salow threw a slider and got the strikeout.
Lewis’ line included one walk and six strikeouts. “He was getting swings and misses with his fastball!” Mingione beamed.
Kentucky collected just six hits. Sluggers Pompey, Evan White and Riley Mahan went a combined 1-for-12. Mahan will enter the NCAA Tournament on an 0-for-17 stretch that has dropped his batting average to .325.
SEC Tournament semifinals
1 p.m.: LSU vs. South Carolina (SEC Network)
4:30 p.m.: Florida vs. Arkansas-Mississippi State winner (SEC Network)