After Christian Walker feasted on Vanderbilt pitching on Friday, the Commodores nearly neutralized the South Carolina slugger over the next two days.
Nearly being the key word. The Gamecocks’ first baseman landed the crushing blow when it mattered the most. His two-run home run against Philip Pfeifer in the 13th inning dealt Vanderbilt a 6-4 loss on Sunday at Hawkins Field in the rubber game of the three-game series.
“[Pitching coach Derek] Johnson came out and told me we’ve got to keep away from this guy,” Pfeifer said. “When you make mistakes to good hitters bad things happen.”
It was Walker’s third home run of the weekend for the reigning two-time national champion Gamecocks (20-8, 3-6). He blasted two in an 8-3 USC victory on Friday. But he collected only a single on Saturday, going 1-for-4 in Vanderbilt’s 12-4 win.
In the finale, he again was kept at bay — for the most part — through 12 innings with two harmless singles.
When he stepped up in the 13th with a runner on first and two outs, Johnson walked out to talk to Pfeifer, a freshman left-hander. Walking the slugger was not discussed. Walker had been intentionally passed twice already.
“I felt like I could go right after him but unfortunately I made that mistake,” said Pfeifer (0-1), who pitched 1.2 innings in relief.
On a 1-0 count he left a fastball over the plate. Walker smashed the pitch to left field, just over the top of the 35-foot wall, for his team-leading sixth home run.
“I was surprised to see a fastball but the more I thought about it, he’s a lefty,” Walker said. “… It wasn’t really surprising. It was good to get the head out there and crush the ball like that.”
Both missed on opportunities to end the game sooner. After Vanderbilt (11-17, 3-6) tied it in the sixth, the teams combined to go 0-for-16 with runners in scoring position before Walker’s homer.
The Commodores, who didn’t get a hit until the fifth inning, left runners on base in each of the last nine innings. In the 11th and 12th, they left the game-winning run on third.
South Carolina right-hander Matt Price contributed to those woes. He pitched six innings of relief, allowing one run on one hit — both back in the sixth inning — working around four walks and striking out seven. Two of those came in the 11th when he fanned Connor Harrell and Riley Reynolds to the end inning with Spencer Navin standing on third.
“It is just frustrating being a part of something where you put so much into it and it doesn’t turn out the way you want it,” right fielder Mike Yastrzemski said. “There was no pressing. We were just out playing our normal game. ... [Price] is a good pitcher. He just made some pitches and we just couldn’t get through at the end there.”
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin declined to comment.
His young Commodores showed some resolve in rallying from a four-run deficit after starting pitcher Will Clinard was pulled in the fifth inning.
South Carolina starting pitcher Colby Holmes didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning when Spencer Navin led off with a single down the third base line. In a game that featured eight errors, including five by South Carolina, Navin moved to second on a throwing error, advanced to third on Vince Conde’s single and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Reynolds. Later in the frame, with runners on first and second and two outs, Tony Kemp struck a two-run double down the right-field line.
Yastrzemski tied it up the next inning. With runners on first and second, Conde grounded to short for an apparent inning-ending double play. But he beat out the throw and Yastrzemski, rounding third, didn’t slow down. Walker’s attempt to catch Yastrzemski misfired into the netting behind home plate.
“It is a tough one,” Pfeifer said. “But we also rallied back against a really good team. We fought hard. We got to take away what we can away from that. And hopefully I'll be taking away no more pitches down the middle.”