Belmont senior left-hander Chase Brookshire, one of the league's best pitchers before a mid-season arm injury, set an OVC tournament neutral-site record with a career-high 14 strikeouts Thursday in a 6-3 win over JSU. The elimination-game loss sent the Gamecocks to their earliest exit in a conference tournament in 15 years.
The last time JSU went two-and-out in a conference tournament was 1998 when
it played in the Atlantic Sun Conference and fell to Central Florida and Florida International in Kissimmee, Fla.
³I don¹t think anybody associated with our program would ever be happy if we didn¹t leave here as the winner, regardless whether we¹re two and out or it took three games,² Case said. ³We strive to win championships, and
Jacksonville State deserves that, so we¹re disappointed that we weren¹t able to do that this year.
³The game today was about one guy, and he was absolutely fantastic. When we saw Brookshire was going to be pitching, one of the things we talked about was we may not have a whole bunch of opportunities, but when we do, we need to take advantage of them. … We did generate some opportunities, but he gave us very few and with them scoring six runs it was difficult for us to come
The Gamecocks (32-26) were the fifth toughest team to strikeout in the OVC this season, but Brookshire was just too much in command of all his pitches.
He struck out at least one batter in every inning except the fifth and struck out the side twice. He fanned eight over the last four innings and, fittingly, ended the game by getting Andrew Bishop swinging.
He gave up five hits and walked one.
Brookshire was making only his fourth start after missing more than a month with an elbow strain. He made his return May 5 against the Gamecocks and, working on a limited pitch count, allowed one hit in four innings and struck out five in a no decision.
There didn¹t face the same pitch limit Thursday. With the third-seeded, pitching-rich Bruins (38-20) now in the losers¹ bracket, Brookshire was going to go as long as possible. He threw 120 pitches -- 85 for strikes -- and had only 10 two-ball counts.
³If you just walked up and watched him, I felt like his body language and all said I¹m in total control,² Case said. ³Once he had that lead I felt like he was really about as good as anybody we had faced all year long. He was really, really good, and we just couldn¹t get over the hump.²
Griff Gordon had the most success of any Gamecocks player against Brookshire. One day after seeing his 25-game streak of reaching base end, he reached base all four times he batted and was a double away from hitting for the cycle.
He led off the fourth with a triple and scored JSU¹s first run on Coty Blanchard¹s infield out. He hit a solo homer in the sixth, ultimately nosing out teammate Michael Bishop by .0011 percentage points to win the team batting title.
Eddie Mora-Loera and Andrew Bishop had the Gamecocks¹ other hits. Mora-Loera finished the season with a 13-game hitting streak.
³I was just trying to see the ball and hit it,² Gordon said. ³I knew he was going to throw mostly fastballs because that¹s what he likes to get ahead with, so I just jumped on the first strike he threw me.
³He may have had a little more life on his fastball four weeks ago, but he was throwing all four pitches for strikes. We all knew he was a good pitcher, there was no doubt about that. I think Mike just missed a few balls. A few inches here and there, we¹re in the ballgame.²
JSU starter Taylor Shields started off as if he was going to have a Brookshire kind of day, too. He got through the first inning in only five pitches, but then the Bruins reached him for a run in the second and three in the third.
It was a 6-1 game in the fourth. He was followed to the mound by Graham Officer and Travis Stout.
³The first inning I did feel good,² Shields said. ³I was able to locate fastballs, get in on the hands, then after that the ground balls they hit felt like we weren¹t in the spot they hit it into. (After that) I couldn¹t throw my off-speed for a strike, so they were sitting back waiting on fastballs and I wasn¹t locating it low, so that made it tough.²
And Brookshire made it tougher.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.