USC breaks out bats, advances to Super Regional

Gamecocks declare hitting slump over

nwhite@thestate.comJune 6, 2010 

South Carolina parlayed its version of the daily double Sunday night into its first trip to an NCAA Super Regional in three seasons.

Using the home-field advantage and a wealth of postseason experience, the Gamecocks rolled to a 10-2 victory against Virginia Tech in the regional championship game before a crowd of 6,233 at Carolina Stadium.

Top-seeded USC, which has played in 11 consecutive NCAA tournaments, swept through its three games against Bucknell, The Citadel and Virginia Tech, which was playing in its first NCAA tournament since 2000, with a trio of comeback victories backed by vocal crowds.

“Our guys have earned the opportunity to keep playing,” USC coach Ray Tanner said.

USC (46-15) will play the winner of today’s game between Coastal Carolina and the College of Charleston next weekend in a Super Regional. If Coastal Carolina wins, it would serve as the host because it is a national seed. If the Cougars win, South Carolina likely would grab the host site.

Dating to 1975, the Gamecocks have won 11 of 12 first-round NCAA regionals played in Columbia, with the only defeat coming in 1976. They lost road regionals in each of the past two seasons to N.C. State and East Carolina.

Tanner cited the strong crowds and the program’s longstanding reputation in the powerful SEC as helpful factors in sweeping the field. The Gamecocks will play in their eighth Super Regional since 2000.

Virginia Tech coach Pete Hughes would like to get his program to the same level. He saluted what USC did over the weekend in its new home.

“It’s a tremendous venue, great program, great coach,” Hughes said. “I’m proud to be a part of this regional.”

It didn’t hurt that the Gamecocks rediscovered their bats by piling up 14 hits in each game, a stark contrast to their poor offensive showing in the SEC tournament.

“Right now, we have a little confidence, a little swagger going. We feel like we can win,” Tanner said.

Bradley, who hit a three-run homer to put the game away to go with his huge go-ahead homer against Bucknell in the opener, declared the slump dead.

“Double-digits every single game in hits, I think it’s over,” said Bradley, who ran his hitting streak to 14 games and team-high batting average to .367.

USC used a six-run outburst in the sixth to knock out Virginia Tech starter Mathew Price (7-4) and bust open a tie game. Bradley’s long three-run homer, his 11th of the season, to right-field capped the scoring in the rally, which also saw RBI singles from Scott Wingo, Evan Marzilli and Whit Merrifield.

“We came up big all three games,” Tanner said. “We had some guys have some clutch hits. That’s all you can hope for.”

The Gamecocks scored their final run on a solo homer in the seventh by tournament MVP Adrian Morales, who had three home runs and seven RBIs on seven hits in 14 at-bats after he entered the regional in a deep slump.

“He did turn it up a notch,” Tanner said.

Virginia Tech (40-22), which defeated The Citadel 4-3 earlier in the day to stay alive in the regional, forced USC starter Jay Brown out of the game in the fourth inning, but reliever Jose Mata got a strikeout with a runner on second to get out of the frame with no damage. Mata (7-1) went on to pitch 4 1/3 scoreless innings of two-hit baseball to claim the win.

“He did a great job. We just didn’t make the right adjustments,” Hughes said. “He was the difference.”

The Hokies jumped on Brown early when Steve Domecus followed a one-out walk with a long home run to the left-field bleachers for a 2-0 lead. The homer was Domecus’ team-high 13th of the season.

South Carolina cut the lead to 2-1 in the fourth off Price with doubles by Brady Thomas and Christian Walker, who ripped a 3-2 pitch into the left-field corner to plate the run. USC tied the game at 2-2 in the fifth on Bradley’s sacrifice fly, which followed a hit batsman, Marzilli’s single and a wild pitch.

In the end, the Gamecocks refused to let another deficit keep them from getting where they wanted to go in the postseason.

“I’m very happy to be in this position,” Tanner said. “Our guys did a great job for three days.”

Coach Tanner on USC's 10-2 victory over VT

Players comment on the win over VT

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