Taylor Hill got off to an inauspicious start in Sunday's rubber game between Vanderbilt and South Carolina, surrendering a home run to Whit Merrifield on his very first pitch. After that, he was dynamite, allowing no runs the rest of the way in 7 2/3 innings.
At the time, giving up the lead-off homer didn't faze him.
"It's just a solo home run, it's not a grand slam," Hill said. "It's probably not going to beat you."
Unfortunately for Hill, that was enough for the 8th-ranked Gamecocks to beat him and the cold-hitting 19th-ranked Commodores on a frustrating afternoon at Hawkins Field, 2-0, and win the series. The Gamecocks scored an insurance run in the ninth inning, but the way Vanderbilt was hitting and South Carolina was pitching, it wasn't really needed.
Jay Brown and two Gamecock relievers combined for a two-hit shutout with five strikeouts and faced the minimum 27 batters. Despite holding the Gamecocks to just seven runs the whole weekend, the Commodores came away with just one win, to coach Tim Corbin's bewilderment.
"Yeah, it's hard to imagine," Corbin said. "We pitched as well as we could this weekend. Offensive ball club, shot them right down. Very proud of Taylor. He gave us every opportunity to win. Don't really know if I saw this coming."
Especially after Vanderbilt got a base hit to start the bottom of the first, but then had only one baserunner the rest of the game.
Brian Harris led things off with a single, but he was erased on a double play, and Vanderbilt didn't get another man on base until Harris singled again in the seventh inning. Bryan Johns sacrificed Harris to second, but Westlake lined out to shortstop and Harris was doubled up, ending the threat.
"That was kind of symbolic of our day," Corbin said.
The day mostly entailed Vanderbilt chasing breaking pitches and looking off balance for the entire contest. The Commodores didn't get another ball out of the infield after their rally fizzled in the seventh, and they were retired in order in seven out of nine innings.
Hill had one of his best performances in weeks, taking command by consistently getting ahead in the count and receiving some fine defensive plays behind him as well. He struck out three and allowed only two hits, and he received a well-deserved standing ovation from the Hawkins Field crowd when he was removed for Richie Goodenow in the eighth inning.
What he didn't get was a well-deserved win.
For Harris, it stung more in the wake of Friday's game, when the Commodores got a complete game from Sonny Gray but couldn't get the big hit, losing 3-2. They rebounded with an 8-2 victory on Saturday, but the bats were nowhere to be found on Sunday.
"When you pitch as well as we did, it's really frustrating to get the kind of offensive performance we had this weekend as a whole," Harris said. "We have to get better as a whole and look forward to MTSU and Auburn this weekend."