The senior outfielder ripped a solid single into left field with two outs in the 14th inning to hand the Gamecocks a 5-4 victory over perhaps the toughest Alabama State team they’ve played in the 38-year history of the series.
“The suspense kind of builds the longer you play,” Bluestein said. “We were all looking for somebody to get that big hit. I was glad I was able to help the team get it done.”
Scott Underwood got the winning rally started with a sharp one-out single into left. Sam Eberle followed with a solid single through the box and after Ben Waldrip popped out Bluestein delivered his game-winning hit.
The ball made its way through the infield. Left-fielder Jordan Mims tried to make a play at the plate, but his throw rode up the third base line.
“I went up to that at-bat and I knew at some point I was going to get a pitch to hit,” Bluestein said. “I was looking for something I could the barrel on.”
Given the history of the series, there were probably a lot of people in the stands at Rudy Abbott Field Tuesday night who didn’t expect the Hornets to JSU much of a game. After all, the Gamecocks (19-23) had only lost once in 31 previous meetings and scored 10 or more runs in 23 of the last 28 games, but ASU gave them all they could handle.
It was the Gamecocks’ second extra-inning game of the year and their longest game since a 15-inning loss to Eastern Illinois last May 7.
They will look to sweep the home-and-home series tonight in Montgomery, looking to win their first non-conference road game of the season (0-8). The Gamecocks have lost 14 straight non-conference road games.
Both teams had chances to end it earlier.
ASU (19-29) threatened in the top of the 14th when Leo Rojas hit a two-out triple, but got stranded there.
In the 13th, Darrion Pedro ripped a two-out line double to left-centerfield and Jordan Mims followed with a line single that JSU reliever Chase Smith knocked down with his pitching hand. His instinct kept the ball from going into the outfield, possibly scoring the go-ahead run, but raised concerns about his continuing.
Smith stayed in the game and hit pinch-hitter Marcus Swint to load the bases, ending his night in favor of Robby Lilly. Lilly, making only his fourth appearance of the year — first since April 10 and second since Feb. 29 — got the final out and eventually his first collegiate win.
Bluestein started JSU’s 10th with a one-out single up the middle. Eric Underwood grounded to first, but ASU first baseman Pedro was late getting Bluestein at second. Stephen Bartlett followed with a soft liner to short, forcing Bluestein at third, and Adam Miller walked to load the bases.
Coty Blanchard almost won the game with the first pitch he saw, but his liner fell just outside the left-field line. He flew out to end the inning.
It was a tough night for the two-sport star who has struggled at the plate this season. He flew out to short right field with bases loaded when he entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the sixth, struck out with a runner in scoring position in the eighth and flied out in the 10th.
ASU opened the 10th with its sixth leadoff walk of the game. This one to leadoff man Richard Amion, who already stole three bases in the game (giving him 33 for the year). Leo Rojas sacrificed Amion to second and Amion went to third on a wild pitch, but Todd Hornsby got a strikeout, issued an intentional walk to set up a force and got it from the next batter.
The Gamecocks ran out of a run in the eighth and ASU ran out of a run in the ninth.
Hornsby gave the Gamecocks 4 1/3 innings of solid shutout relief — his longest outing of the year and tying for the fifth longest of his JSU career. He put the leadoff hitter on three times in the game and had runners in scoring position in the seventh and tenth innings, but got out of all of it before giving way to Smith.
The Gamecocks fell behind 3-0 and 4-1, but kept chipping away and finally tied the game 4-4 in the seventh on Ben Waldrip’s two-out, two-strike solo homer just to the right of the scoreboard. Sam Eberle homered for their first run in the fourth, his second in as many games.
“We believed the whole time we were going to come back,” Bluestein said. “It took about five extra innings to get that last one.”
Redshirt freshman right-hander Travis Stout, who had been nothing short of brilliant in his first season pitching collegiately, struggled in his third career start.
He entered the game 4-1 with a team best 2.38 ERA and teams hitting only .203 against him. But he allowed the leadoff man to reach in four of the five innings he started and fell behind 4-1.
Stout gave up a walk and an RBI double in the first, a solo homer in the second and allowed a run to score from third on a wild pitch. He also hit a batter in the third, prompting an early visit from coach Jim Case.
He was lifted for Tanner Freshour after giving up his third leadoff walk in five innings. Two of the walks came around to score.
Eberle’s homer made it 3-1 and Kyle Stone’s two-out RBI single in the fifth made it 4-2.
JSU missed a big chance to take the lead in the sixth.
Cal Lambert’s RBI single drew them to 4-3 and the Gamecocks loaded the bases with one out after Adam Miller hit a ball to center that the runners had to hold on to see if it were caught. It fell for a hit, but the hesitation prevented any runs from scoring.
Blanchard came on as a pinch hitter. The sophomore infielder was getting the night off — only the second game he hadn’t started in his JSU career — but he flew out down the right field line on the first pitch from reliever Michael Estevez. Stone battled in the next at-bat, fouling off five pitches after falling behind 1-2 and working the count full, but popped to short to end the inning.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.