Belcher shuts down Rebels

Lefty throws complete game as USC wins first two games of SEC series

david.brandt@clarionledger.comApril 12, 2009 

OXFORD, Miss. — South Carolina’s Nolan Belcher is an unassuming pitcher. He stands about 5-foot-8 with a fastball that doesn’t get much faster than 85 mph.

But thanks to a steady diet of curveballs — coupled with some overzealous Mississippi hitters — the little lefty threw a complete game to lead USC to an 8-1 victory at Oxford-University Stadium.

The Rebels (24-10, 8-6 SEC) came into this weekend series on an eight-game winning streak, but those days seemed long gone after Saturday.

“Today, I just didn’t think our at-bats were very good,” Rebels coach Mike Bianco said. “We couldn’t answer. We couldn’t get the big hit like they did.”

Belcher (2-1) scattered nine hits and three walks while striking out eight.

“It was far from easy, but I’m just very, very proud of (Belcher),” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “It was a gritty performance.”

USC (23-11, 7-7) pounded out 13 hits.

Ole Miss starter Phillip Irwin (5-2) took the loss, giving up six runs in 6 ð innings.

The Gamecocks were opportunistic, scoring all six of those runs on two-out hits in the second, fourth and fifth innings.

“I didn’t think I was locating the ball bad at all, my curve or fastball,” Irwin said. “But they just jumped on me when they saw the opportunity.”

Gamecocks shortstop Bobby Haney was 2-for-4 with two home runs and three RBIs. Nick Ebert was 2-for-5 with four RBIs. Andrew Crisp was 3-for-4.

“They were pretty locked in,” Bianco said.

Ole Miss was not. The Rebels had nine hits, but they couldn’t come through in the clutch, stranding eight runners and making poor decisions on the basepaths.

Jordan Henry was caught stealing after getting a poor jump from first in the first inning, and Zach Miller was picked off second base in the fourth.

Miller, Henry and Tim Ferguson each had two hits for the Rebels. Others, like Jeremy Travis, had no such luck. The senior was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and wished he had been more aggressive.

“(Belcher) didn’t do anything that was overpowering,” Travis said. “He was just doing a good job hitting his spots.”

Trying to avoid the sweep, the Rebels will send righty Scott Bittle (2-2, 2.03) to the mound. An All-America closer last season, Bittle has flourished in his new role as starter, giving up four hits and no runs over the past 16 innings while striking out 23.

Ole Miss also has a fresh closer in Jake Morgan, who hasn’t pitched yet this weekend.

USC will counter with righty Blake Cooper, who is 4-2 with a 4.42 ERA this season.

Ole Miss hasn’t been swept in an SEC series since 2006.

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