Quality starting pitching and a healthy dose of the long ball have been USC’s formula for success throughout the Ray Tanner era. It is a combination South Carolina has been searching for throughout this season.
If only Tanner could bottle his team’s performance Thursday evening at Carolina Stadium. Right-hander Sam Dyson looked every bit like the first-round draft pick he is expected to be, and first baseman Nick Ebert provided two home runs, including a grand slam, to join an elite group of USC power hitters.
The result was a 7-2 victory against Georgia in the opener of a three-game series, a win that extended USC’s hot streak and kept the Bulldogs reeling. Winners of eight of their last nine, the Gamecocks improved to 35-19 overall and 15-13 in the SEC. Georgia, losers of nine of its last 11, fell to 35-18 and 15-13.
In front of a handful of major league scouts, Dyson was nothing short of spectacular in limiting Georgia to four hits while walking one and striking out 13.
“We’ve been looking for him to keep us alive in the fifth or sixth inning because he’s good enough to do that,” Tanner said of Dyson. “He’s just been inconsistent at times. I wish I knew the answer to solving that. At times he can be very special, and he was tonight.”
After allowing a home run to Georgia’s Matt Cerlone on the third pitch he delivered, Dyson worked out of a bases loaded jam without further damage. Over the final eight innings he allowed another solo home run, this one to Lyle Allen in the fourth inning, and one other base runner who reached on an error in the seventh.
“I felt like I could throw whatever I wanted today,” said Dyson (8-4). “That’s pretty much what I did.”
Dyson’s fastball reached 96 mph when he struck out Bryce Massanari to end the third inning. But it was his assortment of changeups and curveballs that were most impressive.
“That was fun,” said USC catcher Justin Dalles. “I just put up my glove and he hit his spots, every time. He had all his stuff and he didn’t try to overthrow. All his pitches worked for him tonight.”
Meanwhile, Ebert provided all the support Dyson needed. Ebert muscled a 2-2 fastball off his fists for a two-run homer in the third inning, then belted a hanging curveball for a grand slam in the seventh inning.
The two blasts gave Ebert 20 home runs for the season, marking the 10th time in USC history a player has reached that milestone.
“It’s just an honor to be up there (with the 20-home run players),” Ebert said. “I never thought I’d be there. Honestly, starting the season out, I did not think I was going to hit 20 home runs. I don’t think anybody thought that.”
Birdseed. USC will conduct a couple of ceremonies prior to Friday night's game. A plaque will be unveiled at 6 p.m. in the center field plaza to honor the late Sarge Frye for his contributions to the baseball program. At 6:45 p.m., USC will recognize its seven senior players on the field. . . . Freshman left-hander Nolan Belcher (3-3, 5.48 ERA) goes Friday for USC against Georgia left-hander Alex McRee (4-2, 4.35). . . . By winning Thursday, USC clinched at least a break-even SEC record this season. It marks the first time since USC joined the league for the 1991 football season that the Gamecocks have finished .500 or better in SEC play in all three major sports. USC was 4-4 in football and 10-6 in men’s basketball. . . . DeAngelo Mack extended his hitting streak to 15 games thanks to some generous scorekeeping in the seventh inning. Mack’s slow chopper up the middle was misplayed by Georgia second baseman Michael Demperio, but was ruled a bad-hop single.