COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Michigan State sophomore left-hander Alex Troop fired four-and-one-third innings of no-hit baseball and limited No. 10 South Carolina to just three hits in a complete game effort, but the Spartans' upset bit fell short, 3-2, Friday night at Founders Park in the opener of the three-game weekend series.
With the loss, MSU slid to 9-3 on the season. USC improved to 10-5 with the win. Friday's meeting between the Spartans and Gamecocks was the first since 1958, as MSU now leads the all-time series, 16-6, which began in 1935, and all 22 games have been played in Columbia.
Michigan State is now 3-2 on its Spring Break trip after losing to Clemson, 9-2, Wednesday night in Greenville, which came on the heels of the Spartans sweeping their three games of the First Pitch Invitational over the weekend.
"Very disappointing again, I thought it was similar to Wednesday. I thought we had a couple opportunities that we weren't able to take advantage of and we made a couple mistakes that they did take advantage of and that's what good teams do, they take advantage of the opportunities that you give them. We'll need to be better tomorrow, we need to be cleaner tomorrow and we need to take advantage of the opportunities that we get tomorrow," MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. MSU and USC meet in the second game of the three-game weekend series on Saturday.
The Spartans had nine hits in Friday's ballgame, out-hitting the Gamecocks, 9-3, but just couldn't capitalize as MSU left eight runners on base. USC pitcher Clarke Schmidt struck out a career-high 12 in 7.1 innings.
"We scattered nine hits, and I thought we came in with a good approach, but we struck out 14 times and so when you can't move the baseball with runners in scoring position, it's hard to score. Every time Schmidt needed a big strikeout he got it. Nine hits is fine but when you don't score off those hits, it doesn't really matter."
While MSU had nine hits, Troop limited USC to just three hits and had a no hitter with one out in the fifth before yielding a one-out home run to Madison Stokes that was just inside the left field foul pole and just cleared the fence.
"Alex was lights out, he was one of the best guys in the country tonight. He made one mistake and the guy got the barrel out on the home run, which should have been a solo home run but we made an error before that and it turned into a two-run home run. That was a tough loss for Alex, but he was as good as anybody, anywhere in the country tonight and Alex can beat anybody. I'm very proud of the way he pitched tonight, but unfortunately it was kind of a hard-luck loss situation for him."
Troop's complete-game three-hit effort left a strong impression with South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook.
"It was a great game. Their kid was terrific. We knew he was good coming into the game. I knew in the first inning with his delivery and ability to throw his change-up and locate his pitches, I knew it was going to be a struggle to score, especially with the wind blowing the way it was," Holbrook said.
Troop allowed only one walk and fired six strikeouts in pitching his first career complete game.
"That pitcher is really good. He's got a funky delivery. He commands his pitches. He's got a big-league change-up. Our guys couldn't pick the ball up. It was a struggle. I knew in the first and second innings when they came back saying `I can't see it, I can't see it.' Sometimes, lefties can do that to you. I knew it was going to be a struggle. We were hoping for a break here or there."
The visiting Spartans struck first, plating a run in the top of the third as freshman left fielder Danny Gleaves laced a one-out single to left. Two batters later, Bechina singled up the middle to score Gleaves and give MSU the early 1-0 lead.
MSU threatened in the top of the fourth, as senior catcher Matt Byars hit a deep towering fly ball to left that the wind kept in the ballpark for the third out, keeping the score at 1-0 in the visitor's favor.
In the fifth, MSU again threatened, but a fielder's choice became a double play on a ground out by senior second baseman Dan Durkin, who was originally ruled safe. Holbrook challenged, and the umpires met for long time, then overturned the call and ruled Durkin out to end the inning.
USC got its first hit of the game off Troop in the sixth when after a one-out error, South Carolina shortstop Madison Stokes hit a high flyball the dropped just inside the left field foul pole and just over the wall for a two-run home run to put the Gamecocks ahead, 2-1.
MSU countered with a leadoff single and two batters later, Hughes lined a double down the left field line to put Spartans at second and third, but the threat was thwarted, keeping the score 2-1.
The home team added a run in the bottom of the seventh after a triple by Jonah Bride after Hughes just missed making a web gem-esque play on the ball. Bride later scored on a strikeout was in the dirt and throw down to first.
MSU got the run back in the top of the eighth, after Durkin led off with a single and Bechina was hit by pitch. Junior first baseman Zack McGuire sacrifice bunted them up a base, which chased Schmidt. Hughes met USC reliever Colie Bowers with an RBI ground out to pull the Spartans within, 3-2.
Troop got USC to pop up to Bechina at third base for all three outs in the top of the ninth, keeping score 3-2. The Spartans tried to put together a ninth-inning rally as Ando had a two-out single, but the rally fizzled to end the game.
The two teams return to the diamond of Founders Park for the second game of the three-game series on Saturday at 4 p.m., before wrapping up on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.