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Jackie Bradley stands 5-foot-10, and the South Carolina right fielder needed every inch to make an outstanding catch on the first play of Friday’s NCAA regional opener against George Mason.
George Mason’s Spencer Wiggins lined the first pitch from USC’s Sam Dyson deep to the fence in right field. Bradley back peddled quickly and leaped to snare the ball before it sailed over the fence.
“I was trying to keep it in the ballpark,” said Bradley, who added that the catch was not that special. As he spoke, his teammates chuckled.
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“He makes catches like that all the time in practice,” Dyson said.
USC coach Ray Tanner had a different take on the catch.
“I thought it was going to be a home run,” Tanner said. “When he hit it, I knew he hit it hard. I was hoping Jackie had a shot at it. I don’t know that it would have gone out, but Jackie will make a play for you out there.”
Dalles delivers. Despite being sick with a gastrointestinal bug Wednesday and Thursday, catcher Justin Dalles stepped back into the lineup Friday afternoon and had a pair of singles. He also did a solid job of catching starter Sam Dyson.
Tanner did not know Dalles could play until Saturday morning.
“I saw him head across the highway and head toward the Wal-Mart,” Tanner said. “It’s a long way across there, so I watched to see if he could make it the whole way. When he made it, I said, ‘We’ve got a chance.’ “
Tanner expected to get five innings out of Dalles but stayed with him until Dyson was removed after seven innings.
Skip sighting. Tanner and East Carolina football head coach Skip Holtz embraced and chatted for several minutes during a seventh-inning rain delay. The two worked together when Holtz was an assistant football coach at USC from 1999 to 2004.
“We had a rapport and I’ve always pulled for him since he’s been here,” Tanner said of Holtz, who enters his fifth season at ECU with a 30-21 record, including the 2008 Conference USA championship. “I’ve always had a great respect for him.”
Nick of time. USC junior first baseman Nick Ebert blasted his 23rd home run of the season in the seventh inning, which tied him with second place on the single-season list with Justin Smoak (2008) and Joe Datin (1985).
Ebert, a transfer from Central Florida Community College who has made an immediate impact in his first season with the Gamecocks, passed Smoak (22 in 2007) and Tripp Kelly (22 in 2000) with his shot to left. He trails only Yaron Peters, who hit a school-record 29 in 2002. Coincidentally, Peters, Ebert, Smoak and Datin all played first base in the field.
Homer happy. When Smoak, James Darnell, Phil Disher and Reese Havens left USC for the professional ranks after last season, it seemed the team’s power went with them.
They combined to hit 79 of USC’s 110 homers last season. However, when Parker Bangs hit a home run in the fourth inning, it gave the Gamecocks 100 homers this season, the third year in a row they’ve reached that milestone and eighth time in the past 12 seasons.
Even with the move from Sarge Frye Field to Carolina Stadium this year, USC hitters maintained a power surge. With Bradley and Ebert adding homers Friday, USC now has 102 this season. Bradley’s homer gave him 10 and made the freshman the sixth player on the team to reach double figures.
Put the hit in Whit. Center fielder Whit Merrifield extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a fourth-inning single. That ties him for the second longest streak of the season. Bradley also had an 11-game streak earlier this season. DeAngelo Mack put together the longest hitting streak of the season at 18 games.
Gamer. Senior third baseman Andrew Crisp needs to play in one more game to tie Mac White for third on the all-time games-played list. Crisp has played in 235 games, placing him behind Michael Campbell (255), Landon Powell (251) and White (236).