Gamecocks Down Alabama Wednesday Night
COLUMBIA, S.C. – A season-best offensive performance from senior Riley Whitesides and a strong collective night from the defense boosted South Carolina (8-9, 2-6 SEC) to a four-set win at home over Alabama (10-9, 0-8 SEC) Wednesday night. Whitesides led the team with 17 kills and a .469 hitting percentage on offense, while chipping in a career-high 16 digs on defense.
1st SET: The Gamecock defense shined brightest in the opening set, finishing with five blocks and 14 digs to hold Alabama to a .143 hitting percentage in a 25-21 win. The home side nearly led wire-to-wire, using four early blocks to build a 13-6 lead. The Crimson Tide rallied back with a 6-1 run to cut it to two, 17-15, but Carolina pulled away for the win. The offense needed just nine total kills, relying on a big advantage behind the service line along with its defense. Morgan Carter and Sydney Floyd each recorded a service ace, while Alabama finished with four errors behind the line.
2nd SET: South Carolina’s offense led the way in the second, racking up 17 kills with just two errors in a 25-17 win. Lauren McCutcheon’s six kills led a group of attackers that finished with four different players going for three or more kills. Despite the gaudy numbers, it was Alabama that controlled the score early, leading 6-4 thanks to a pair of aces. The Gamecocks’ methodical attack wore down the Tide, as South Carolina finished the set with a side-out percentage of 76 percent – which kept the visitors from making any decisive runs. Trailing 11-8, South Carolina scored a big 9-2 run to flip the score in its favor the rest of the way, keyed by back-to-back blocks from Ellie Ruprich and Campbell Paris.
3rd SET: After switching up its lineup and strategy from set two, Alabama found a winning formula in the third and won 25-14 to extend the match. The Crimson Tide out-hit the Gamecocks .520 to .033, adding a game-high four blocks and two service aces. The set was decided in two runs – the first was a 6-2 opening run to begin the set, then a 7-0 run to break a 9-all tie. Whitesides accounted for more than half of the team’s nine kills, putting away five on seven swings.
4th SET: The offense and defense both showed well in the final game for Carolina, with 16 kills, a whopping 25 digs and four blocks in a 25-19 final. Alabama was unable to slow the combination of Whitesides and Kiune Fletcher, each of whom killed six balls to lead the offense. Fletcher converted all six of her swings into points, pushing her total to 10 for the night. Whitesides also added eight digs in the set, which helped her tie a career high with 16 digs for the match. South Carolina broke away late, scoring a 9-2 run to break a 14-14 tie, with Oby Anadi accounting for three of those points with blocks.
QUOTABLE: TOM MENDOZA
On Riley Whitesides and Lauren McCutcheon’s 30 combined kills
“Well the game plan for them was to be aggressive and I thought the setters and the attackers, Riley and Lauren especially, did a great job. There were obviously times where we got a little bit out of rhythm, especially in that third set, but beyond that I thought they were really good and consistent. I feel like we’ve got that capability, whether it’s those two or Alayna (Johnson), to have two elite left sides. We’ve had matches like this, now hopefully we can string a couple more together.”
South Carolina will hop on a bus to the plains for a Sunday rematch at Auburn on Oct. 22. In the previous meeting, at home on Oct. 8, the Tigers escaped with a five-set victory over the Gamecocks. The match will be carried on SEC Network+. Follow @GamecockVolley on Twitter/X and @GamecockVB on Instagram for continued updates on the team throughout the season.