South Carolina used a balanced offensive attack and a brilliant effort from the bullpen in an 8-3 victory over Georgia to claim its first Southeastern Conference series victory in front of 8,012 at Carolina Stadium.
Sophomore Matt Price pitched two scoreless innings allowing one hit with four strikeouts.
On a weekend that saw the Gamecocks play far from its best baseball, two-of-three is certainly a welcome result. South Carolina had seven errors on the weekend and of the 26 innings they came to the plate, the Gamecocks only had the lead for four of them.
But through 27 strong innings on the mound and a few timely hits, head coach Ray Tanner and his team will exit the first weekend of SEC play tied for second in the East standings.
“Very happy to be able to win our first series, especially after losing the opener,” Tanner said. “I thought our guys battled hard, played hard. We got stellar pitching all weekend and we kept ourselves in position to win. Once again, the bullpen came up big for us.”
After starter Adam Westmoreland could only manage to go one-plus innings on the afternoon, the Gamecocks (13-4, 1-1) had to turn to the bullpen. Four relievers combined to allow one run on three hits and 12 strikeouts over eight innings to earn the opening conference series victory.
“Everybody chipped in and did their job,” senior John Taylor, who tossed 2.1 perfect innings, said.
After a clean inning with two strikeouts from Westmoreland in the first inning, it became unraveled for him in the second. He sandwiched a walk around two hit batsmen to load the bases with no one out. Even though he was just six hitters into the game, the coaching staff had seen enough calling on freshman Forrest Koumas.
The power righty minimized the damage allowing a sac fly and RBI single but the Bulldogs (9-11, 1-2) were only able to come away with a pair of runs in the inning.
“Our design was to go with Koumas,” Tanner said. “He got some big outs but he’s still trying to find his way a little bit. He’s got to mature a little bit. He had three walks in three innings but he got some big out for us. Then (John Taylor) held them at bay until we went to Matt, who was really good as well.”
Junior Adam Matthews was 3-for-3 on the day with two runs scored and an RBI.
Carolina was able to answer right back with a two-spot of its own in the bottom of the second. Scott Wingo and Adam Matthews both registered RBI singles in the inning off of Georgia starter and Clemson transfer Craig Gullickson. Robert Beary gave the Gamecocks their first lead of the game when he grounded a two-out single back up the middle to bring home Jake Williams, who reached on a walk.
Both teams traded runs in the fourth inning. The Bulldogs tied the score again when Koumas balked in a run. Peter Verdin tripled off the left field wall with one down in the inning. After Koumas registered his fifth strikeout on the next hitter, Hyams stepped out of the box mid-windup when catcher Brady Thomas asked for time. The freshman stopped his motion thus balking and bringing home the tying run.
The Gamecocks reinstated their lead though when Walker registered an RBI groundout in the bottom half of the inning. Morales extended the lead to 5-3 in the sixth inning with an RBI groundout of his own. On the season, Walker has a team-high 18 runs batted in while Morales has 14, good for third on the team.
“Any time you can win two out of three, it doesn’t matter if it’s a down team or a top five team, it’s going to be tough,” Taylor said. “It’s a pretty good accomplishment. Coach Tanner always talks about when you play in the SEC, you can throw the rankings out the door. It’s going to be a dog fight.”
For good measure, and to give the bullpen some breathing room, the Gamecocks added three more runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Matthews, who reached on a single, came in to score on a throwing error by the shortstop. Sophomore Evan Marzilli, who entered the game for defensive purposes in the top of the inning, grounded a two-RBI double up the middle to give his team the final winning margin.
Koumas pitched 3.1 innings allowing one earned run on two hits and three walks. He also struck out six hitters on 61 pitches. Bryan Harper recorded a strikeout to the only hitter he faced while closer Matt Price, who picked up his sixth save of the season, allowed one hit and four strikeouts in two scoreless innings.
“SEC play is always going to be tough no matter who you’re playing,” Walker said. “Thankfully our pitching held together and didn’t give up many runs. You always have a chance when the team doesn’t give up many runs.”
For the weekend, the pitching staff allowed seven earned runs over 27 innings pitched. Nine different pitchers threw on the weekend and combined to have 32 strikeouts versus eight walks.
South Carolina will play host to College of Charleston on Tuesday in a game televised by SportsSouth at 7 p.m. The Gamecocks also will also welcome Rhode Island on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Starting pitchers have yet to be announced but Tanner said it would likely be either Tyler Webb or Colby Holmes on Tuesday with the other or potentially Adam Westmoreland on Wednesday.