COLUMBIA, S.C. -- It was anything but a walk in the park, but the No. 1 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks took advantage of a season high nine walks by University of Alabama pitchers to squeak out a 7-6 win in front of 3,960 fans in the series opener between Southeastern Conference division leaders at Sarge Frye Field.
The trio of Alabama pitchers walked nine batters and hit two more, but it was a pair of two-out doubles in the bottom of the 11th inning that doomed the 10th ranked Crimson Tide.
South Carolina's freshman first baseman Justin Smoak ripped a two-out double into the right field corner off David Robertson in the inning. Another freshman, shortstop Reese Havens, blooped a 3-2 pitch down the left field line to score pinch runner James Darnell with the game-winning run for Carolina.
"We walked nine guys and (Wade) LeBlanc was not sharp," Alabama head coach Jim Wells said.
Havens (3-for-4) finished the game with three hits and three RBI. He also walked twice and scored one run. Smoak was 0-for-3 prior to his 11th inning single. He also struck out looking to end the ninth inning with the winning run at second base.
Robertson (2-3) suffered the loss as he allowed one run and two hits in two innings. He walked two and struck out two in the loss.
South Carolina (27-4, 9-1 SEC) sophomore right-hander Wynn Pelzer (3-0) blanked the Crimson Tide over the final three innings for the win. He walked one and struck out three in the win.
The Gamecocks looked poised to take the game in the bottom of the 10th inning when they loaded the bases off Robertson with no outs. The sophomore pitched out of the jam to send the game to the 11th inning.
Havens drew a lead off walk and backup catcher Trent Kline reached on senior catcher Kody Valverde's first error of the season on a sac bunt attempt. After a balk, Robertson intentionally walked Andrew Crisp to load the bases.
Cheyne Hurst hit into a double play that went Robertson to Valverde to senior first baseman Spencer Pennington. Robertson reloaded the bases when he hit Brown on a 1-2 pitch, but got out of trouble when Campbell grounded out to send the game to the 11th inning.
Alabama (23-10, 7-3 SEC) forced extra innings when junior shortstop Greg Paiml led off the ninth inning with a solo home run off right-hander Andrew Cruse. The home run was Paiml's first of the season and fourth of his UA career. He snapped a 57-game and 152 at-bat homerless streak with the solo blast.
Paiml was 3-for-5 with a home run, two RBI and scored two runs for the Tide.
South Carolina regained the lead with three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning when pinch-hitter Drew Martin doubled over the head of centerfielder Emeel Salem to give the Gamecocks a 6-5 lead.
USC DH Robbie Grinestaff drew a one out walk and the inning was prolonged when Havens drew a two-out walk. Catcher Ian Paxton then singled up the middle to score Grinestaff and pull USC to withing a run at 4-3. It was Grinestaff's third run of the game. Paxton's RBI single chased LeBlanc and brought Davis into the game.
LeBlanc gave up six earned runs and seven hits in 7 2/3 innings. He walked a career high six batters and added seven strikeouts in his first no decision since March 10th.
Martin's two-run double on an 0-2 count off Davis scored Havens and pinch-runner Trent Kline with the tying and go-ahead runs.
Davis yielded a one-out single and a two-out intentional walk to Grinestaff in the ninth inning before being replaced by Robertson. USC left two runners on base in the ninth inning when Robertson struck out Smoak with the winning run at second base.
South Carolina broke a scoreless tie with a run in the bottom of the fourth inning when Grinestaff reached on a one-out double and scored on Smoak's two-out single to center to give the Gamecocks a 1-0 lead.
Alabama came back with three runs on four hits in the top of the fifth inning to chase USC starter freshman right-hander Mike Cisco, making his first Friday night start of the season due to the season-ending injury to Arik Hempy.
Pennington started the inning with a single to center field and freshman right fielder Ryan Rhoden followed with a walk. Senior third baseman Matt Downs sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position before Paiml plated the tying run with an infield single up the middle to score Pennington. Salem laced a single to right to score Rhoden with the go-ahead run and chase Cisco from the game.
Cisco allowed three earned runs and five hits in 4 1/3 innings, with one walk and three strikeouts.
Junior left fielder Brandon Belcher greeted Cruse with a bunt single to score Paiml and give the Tide a 3-1 lead.
The Gamecocks pulled to within 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning but left the tying run on base when LeBlanc struck out Neil Giesler to end the inning. Mark Stanley drew a lead off walk and moved to second on Cheyne Hurst's base hit to left field. After a Chris Brown sacrifice, Michael Campbell grounded out to Downs at third to score Stanley before Giesler struck out.
The Grinestaff and Havens combination produced another run in the sixth inning as the Gamecocks tied the game at 3-3. Grinestaff singled through the right side of the infield to lead off the inning and moved to second on Smoak's sacrifice bunt with two strikes.
Havens then collected his second RBI single of the game with a shot up the middle to tie the game. Again, LeBlanc stranded the tying run on base thanks to fine defensive play at third by Downs and a strikeout of Stanley to end the inning.
Alabama took a 5-3 lead in the top of the eighth inning when freshman DH Alex Avila ripped a two-run double into the right field corner to score senior second baseman Evan Bush and Valverde. Bush drew a lead off walk and Valverde doubled down the left field line to put two runners in scoring position for Avila.
The two teams will meet again on Saturday at 4 p.m. (ET) at Sarge Frye Field. UA will send junior right-hander Bernard Robert (4-1, 2.42 ERA) against USC lefty Forest Beverly (5-1, 4.05 ERA).
*South Carolina improves to 3-0 in extra inning games this season. Alabama fell to 1-3 in extra inning games, including an 0-2 mark in SEC play. Alabama's last two SEC games have been 11-inning losses to Miss. State and South Carolina.
*The Crimson Tide falls to 7-3 in one-run games this season.
*Alabama is now 11-12 all-time against the No. 1 ranked team, including a 2-2 mark this season.
*The Crimson Tide suffered its first Friday night loss in SEC play and its first since a 2-1, 11-inning loss at No. 6 Nebraska on March 10.
*LeBlanc made his 37th career start on Friday night at South Carolina to move into sole possession of eighth place on the school's all-time list. He entered the game tied with Al Drumheller (1991-93) for eighth with career starts. LeBlanc remains seventh all-time with 270 career innings. He is four behind Chris Eilers (1994-97) sixth place total of 274 innings pitched.
*LeBlanc walked a career-high six batters on Friday night. The UA staff issued a season-high nine walks in the loss.
*Valverde's fourth inning infield hit snapped an 0-for-13 slump at the plate, dating back to March 25. He finished the game 2-for-5 with one run scored. His 8th inning double was his first extra base hit since March 25th.
*Salem (1-for-6) extended his hitting streak to 16 games with an RBI single in the fifth inning.
*Alabama held the SEC's leading hitter Neil Giesler (.454 average) hitless in six at-bats in the series opener.