Looking back, expectations were really high for this weekend at the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational, as the Gamecocks were set to play three ranked teams and one team who was just outside the rankings.
Unfortunately, this weekend did not go as planned, as the Gamecocks would go 1-3 on the weekend after everything under the sun went wrong and one of their own would suffer a serious injury, with the potential of missing serious time.
The Gamecocks would start the tournament early Thursday morning by playing the #19 ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders.
South Carolina would start strong in the bottom of the first inning, striking first and taking a 1-0 lead over TTU off of Drotar’s sac fly, following Kenzie Maguire’s leadoff double.
Carolina would hold the lead for three innings until the top of the fourth, when the leadoff batter would connect for a home-run and tie the game for the Red Raiders.
Unfortunately, the scoring wouldn’t stop there, as the Raiders would connect on a two-run bomb later in the inning to take a 3-1 lead.
Kelsey Oh limited the damage and put up a solid performance, but a communication error and a dropped ball would plate two more runs for TTU in the fifth and put the game out of reach.
South Carolina would drop its first game of the year 5-1, as Kelsey would get the loss and pitch five innings, giving up six hits for five runs and recording eight strikeouts.
Game two of the tournament would see the Gamecocks take on the Virginia Tech Hokies Friday morning, unfortunately coming out on the losing end for the second time.
In a game that lacked offense, the Hokies came out swinging and put two runs on the board in the top of the first inning, but South Carolina would respond in the bottom of the inning with a run of their own, courtesy of Cayla Drotar’s RBI single.
Virginia Tech would extend their lead back to two runs in the top of the third, but Carolina would get a major shift in momentum in the bottom of the inning when senior Mackenzie Boesel cracked a grand slam out of the park to give Carolina a 5-3 lead.
The lead would hold until the sixth inning, when following a one-out single and a walk, a double would allow two runners to score and tie the game for the Hokies.
In an inning that would prove to be disastrous in multiple ways, the lead would be lost after a throwing error and a wild pitch would allow two more to score.
Unfortunately, the second run would come at a cost to South Carolina – in an attempt to get the runner out at third base following a wild pitch, pitcher Cayla Drotar would be on the wrong end of a collision with the runner and go down at the plate.
She was helped off the field and transported to the hospital for x-rays and CT scans, before being scratched from the rest of the tournament and sent home to Columbia early.
Losing Drotar for the season would be a serious blow to the bullpen, leaving five pitchers eligible for play, but only two with extended playing time experience.
All of Gamecock Nation is praying for good news and a speedy recovery for #9, as we hope to have her back and healthy as soon as possible.
The final score of the game would end up being 8-6 Hokies, after Virginia Tech hit a home run following South Carolina cutting the lead to one in the sixth inning, after a triple by Haley Simpson and a double by Kenzi Maguire.
Hitting and scoring was not a problem for the Gamecocks in a game that saw seven hits for six runs; it was the defensive errors, two home runs, and nine hits allowed that doomed the Gamecocks Friday morning in a game that cost more than just another loss.
Come Friday night, the Gamecocks were able to salvage the day and get a split with a run rule 10-0 victory over Kansas in the sixth.
Kelsey Oh would come in for her second start of the weekend and pitch six complete innings, only giving up two hits, with eleven strikeouts and only two walks.
Oh’s excellent work in the circle combined with Carolina’s ten runs, capped off by junior Katie Prebbles walk-off three-run moonshot, would make a quick night at the office for the girls in garnet and black and help end the day on a good note.
Saturday night rolled in and the Gamecocks would be faced with another huge mountain to climb in Clearwater, as the #1 Washington Huskies would be the next opponent on the schedule.
This game had the potential to be a defining moment of the year, as the Huskies would strike first in the fourth inning for two runs, but the Gamecocks would fight back and put up four runs in the top of the fifth to take the lead.
With a 4-2 lead headed into the sixth inning, it seemed as if the hot hand belonged to the Gamecocks… until something odd happened.
During the final out of the bottom of the fifth, as Kenzi Maguire fielded the out, the lights of the stadium went out and would stay out for nearly a half hour.
Lights out. Party on. pic.twitter.com/XUnW6DYEkp— Gamecock Softball (@GamecockSoftbll) February 16, 2020
With a chance to catch their breath and regroup, and after filing a formal complaint with the NCAA, the #1 Washington Huskies would put up three runs in the bottom of the sixth to take a one run lead, eventually coming back and stealing a much needed victory from the Carolina squad.
The Gamecocks fought valiantly and represented the state extremely well, but an unfortunate throwing error late in the game was the dooming factor as South Carolina would come up two runs short of a huge upset victory.
The final game for South Carolina in Clearwater would prove to be just as odd and frustrating as its predecessor for Gamecock fans.
The Gamecocks would come out the gate fired up Sunday afternoon, as they would put up three runs in the first inning, courteous of a big three-run bomb by SO Kassidy Krupit.
#20 James Madison would respond with two home runs of their own to tie the game at three by the completion of the first inning, but South Carolina would quickly respond in the fourth, taking a three-run lead again, making it 6-3 going into the fifth.
Unfortunately, as our Gamecocks were heading into the batter’s box to start the fifth inning, officials called both coaches in and called the game.
Due to time issues on a travel day, today's game and stats will not count. #Gamecocks— Gamecock Softball (@GamecockSoftbll) February 16, 2020
It was later revealed that JMU had issued a 3:15 drop time after the game was delayed an hour and a half from its 12:30 start, and if they did not finish the game before then, the game would be called and would not count.
In a very frustrating turn of events, Coach Bev’s squad was denied the chance to finish out what would’ve been a big Top 20 win, and all stats to that point were wiped from the record book.
Due to the game being null and void, the Gamecocks would finish the weekend 1-3 and saw a plethora of costly errors and strange occurrences come back to bite them.
At this point, it’s safe to say that this weekend has left a sour taste in the mouths of a lot of Gamecocks in terms of potentially going back to the Elite Tournament in Clearwater.
With the loss of a key pitcher, lighting issues, and poor management of contingency planning, a lot of things went wrong; and that’s not even mentioning the fact that some fields in the tournament had knee-high pop up netting acting as outfield walls.
With all that being said, the tournament could’ve been managed and handled much better, but if South Carolina gets a chance to go back in the future, they should definitely take it.
It’s very rare to get a chance to play four ranked teams in five games over the course of four days, and that kind of resume booster is huge.
Although it could have gone much better, this tournament could prove to be a defining and building moment for Coach Bev going forward as she rallies the troops for five games at home this week, including Saturday’s marquee game against an undefeated Michigan team.
Don’t give up just yet Gamecock Nation, as enough was shown this weekend to give serious cause for hope.
If South Carolina can clean up the minor errors that occurred this weekend and get Drotar back quickly, this team has the right pieces to make it happen, and I fully expect our fearless skipper to tighten up the ship and get us back to smooth sailing.
Patience will be key, and we have to believe in these girls. Everything will work out, as long as we keep the field lights on.
Oh, and as long as our opponents can manage their travel schedules better, we should be good as well.