South Carolina couldn’t find the clutch hit on Saturday night until the last swing of the ball game. Junior LB Dantzler launched a 380-foot single to center field to score Connor Bright to give the Gamecocks (22-9, 4-7) a 2-1 victory over Tennessee.
LB Dantzler admires his game-winning single to center field. The Gamecocks were 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position before that hit.
It was a game in which nothing seemed to go right for the Gamecocks at the plate. There were 12 runners stranded on base through five innings and 15 through eight innings. As it has all season, South Carolina struggled to find the big hit.
Dantzler, however, finally came through jumping on a first pitch hanging changeup and belting it to straightaway center to knot the series at a game apiece to set up Sunday’s series rubber match.
“Our guys are trying awfully hard. It’s obvious we’re pressing a little bit, but these guys care,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. “It just hasn’t worked out for us. We left 15 on, but it felt more like 27. Sometimes you go through some cycles that are very difficult for you.”
The reason why Dantzler had the chance to come through with the hit, though, was because of the effort of freshman Jordan Montgomery. The southpaw, after giving up one run in the first, carved through the Volunteers’ (20-11, 6-5) lineup.
“He threw one of the best games any pitcher on our team has thrown this year,” Dantzler said. “He did a tremendous job of keeping us in the game. Without that effort, it wouldn’t have been close the way we were swinging it. Because of him, we were able to win it in the last inning.”
Montgomery was brilliant in his first SEC start, but it didn’t begin so well. Leadoff hitter Will Maddox sent a triple down the left field line that alluded freshman TJ Costen to begin the game. The southpaw found himself down 1-0 after an RBI groundout by Zach Luther before a lot of fans were even in their seats.
The bases clear, Montgomery went to work and mowed down the Volunteers. Through four innings, he set down 12 in a row, including four by strikeouts. He gave his team ample opportunity to grab the lead in the early innings, but the hitters couldn’t find a hole.
South Carolina left six runners stranded on base in the first three innings, including five in scoring position. There was finally a breakthrough when senior Adam Matthews lifted a bases loaded sacrifice fly in the fourth inning, but the Gamecocks left the bases loaded in the frame.
Freshman Connor Bright, who entered the game for defense, led off the ninth inning with a single to start the rally.
The fifth inning brought more of the same as South Carolina loaded the bases with no one out after two walks and a sacrifice bunt fielders choice that saw all three players safe. Dantzler, who entered the night hitting .224, popped up on the infield. Costen, who was 2-for-2 on the night, went down looking, and Evan Marzilli grounded out to short.
It was just that kind of night for the Gamecocks, which had plenty of opportunities to put Montgomery in line for the win.
“I settled down after that and started throwing my changeup,” Montgomery said. “They were swinging through it. I kept throwing that and I mixed in some of my other off-speeds and tried to keep them off-balance.”
Montgomery pitched eight strong innings allowing just one earned run on three hits. He was able to carve through the Tennessee lineup allowing only a single in both of the fifth and sixth innings, in addition to the triple to lead off the game. The Sumter native did not allow a walk and struck out seven on 99 pitches.
“The bright spot was what Jordan Montgomery was able to do,” Tanner said. “It’s very rare for a freshman in this conference to go out there and pitch like he did. I would say he deserves an opportunity to be out there. He continues to impress and no one is going to argue the fact he deserves to pitch on the weekend.”
Webb entered in the ninth and pitched a perfect inning to pick up the victory and move his record to 3-0 on the season.
That set the stage for Dantzler, who would finally come through with the big hit he so desperately needed. The junior was hitting .212 against SEC competition entering the weekend and that average was down just above the Mendoza line when he dug into the box in the ninth.
“It’s not a secret I haven’t been swinging it my best,” Dantzler said. “I’ve been swinging it and knew eventually it was going to end. I was just trying to hang in there and keep battling.”
As a team, South Carolina was 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position prior to Dantzler’s at-bat. The Gamecocks ended the game with 15 runners left on base, a season high, compared to Tennessee’s two.
The Gamecocks will send junior Colby Holmes to the mound tomorrow for the series rubber match at 1:30 p.m. at Carolina Stadium.