HOOVER, Ala. - South Carolina was able to stay alive in the SEC Tournament and keep its national seed aspirations alive with a narrow 5-3 victory over Auburn in Thursday’s elimination game at Regions Park. The Gamecocks (40-16), thanks to 13 hits and a strong start from senior Michael Roth, have won 40 games for 13 straight years.
Senior Michael Roth
A day after struggling to put runners on base and come through with timely hits, the Gamecocks were able to reverse their fortunes against the Tigers (31-28), who likely saw their season come to an end with the loss.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult game today,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. “They’re a team with great offense and can run the bases. I anticipated we were going to have our hands full.”
South Carolina, which had multi-hit days from four players, slugged 13 hits and also worked four walks. There were 10 runners left stranded on base, but the Gamecocks came up with enough RBI swings to move to the fourth day of the SEC Tournament.
Auburn tried to hang around and scratched across some late runs but the early cushion was enough to keep the Gamecocks around for another day.
“I think this team has competed all year,” Auburn head coach John Pawlowski said. “I think we battled hard.”
South Carolina jumped out to a quick start putting up a single run in each of the first two innings. Junior Evan Marzilli scored from third on a sacrifice fly in the first inning by Christian Walker, which gave him a team-leading 50 RBIs on the season. Sophomore Erik Payne starting for the 25th time this season, launched a double to to score senior Adam Matthews in the second inning.
The Gamecocks doubled their lead with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth inning. Matthews came through with his second hit of the day, an RBI base-knock that scored junior LB Dantzler. With the bases loaded and two outs, freshman Joey Pankake walked to drive in his 24th run, and probably his easiest RBI of the year.
“I thought the key today was Michael was good early,” Tanner said. “We swung the bat early and got a run on the board. We left a guy out there with another opportunity, but we got some hits and went up 5-0. We played well.”
Matthews added his second RBI single in as many innings in the top of the fifth to give the Gamecocks a seemingly comfortable 5-0 lead with Auburn still to bat in their half of the inning.
Auburn was able to scratch across a run off of Roth, who had faced the minimum over the first four innings, despite giving up two hits. Designated hitter Justin Bryant singled to left field to lead off the inning and made his way to third on a double by Patrick Savage to put two in scoring position with no one down. Roth was able to limit the damage though giving up just a sacrifice fly to Dan Glevenyak and escaped the rest of the inning unscathed.
Roth allowed an unearned run in the sixth when Ryan Tella singled to score nine-hole hitter Caleb Bowen, who reached on an error by second baseman Chase Vergason.
“I just felt like I was hitting spots pretty well,” Roth said. “I had pretty good fastball command and for me, that’s crucial in order to get some outs.”
After Auburn put two runners in scoring position with one down in the seventh, Tanner called in his All-American closer Matt Price, who worked out of trouble getting a strikeout and ground out to send the inning.
“if I can have Matt Price at the end, I can sleep a little better at night,” Tanner said.
With Auburn cutting into the South Carolina lead, insurance runs were hard to come by. The Gamecocks left the bases loaded in the seventh inning and two more on base in the eighth.
The Tigers scratched across a run off of Price in the eighth when Bryant knocked a two-out, RBI single to score Tella. The run got the 10th-seeded team in the tournament within a bloop and a blast in the ninth inning, but the Tigers went quietly as Price registered his 10th save of the season.
With the win, Tanner has registered his 13th straight 40-win season with the Gamecocks. Tanner has won 40 games in 14 of his 16 years at South Carolina.
Tanner said following the game that both Price and reliever Tyler Webb would probably be available in short stints on Friday.
South Carolina will play the loser of Thursday’s nightcap between Vanderbilt and Florida on Friday at approximately 7 p.m. EDT.