GREENVILLE, N.C. — The South Carolina baseball team sat in the driver’s seat of the Greenville Regional after Saturday night’s blowout victory against the host team. On Sunday night, East Carolina took the keys away.
With a hard-hitting win of its own, East Carolina forced one more game at 6 p.m. tonight to decide which team advances to this weekend’s Super Regional against North Carolina, likely in Chapel Hill. The top-seeded Pirates pounded out three home runs in an 8-6 victory against the second-seeded Gamecocks, who hit four homers in their 12-2 win the day before.
“We’re even again, and now we’ve got a chance,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “This is what it’s all about. I know their guys will be ready to go. Our guys will be ready to go, and the place will be jumping.”
USC (40-22) made a game of it in the ninth with four runs, two on a Justin Dalles homer and two more on a big pinch-hit double by Brady Thomas. But pinch-hitter Jeffery Jones, who was batting in DeAngelo Mack’s slot after the left-fielder exited the game to rest his shin splints, flied out to end the game. Tanner kicked himself for pulling Mack after realizing his turn in the order could come up again with USC still trailing.
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“It was a mistake on my part,” Tanner said. “I would love to have that one back.”
For East Carolina, Kyle Roller hit a three-run homer in the first inning, Dustin Harrington drilled a solo shot in the fourth and Brandon Henderson blasted a grand slam in the seventh. All three came off USC starter Nolan Belcher (4-5), with Henderson’s bomb ending the freshman left-hander’s day.
“These guys can swing it,” Tanner said. “They have all year.”
Belcher was disappointed with his outing.
“I felt like I had all my stuff working, but they made me pay for those two bad pitches and put up seven runs,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to come back from that. I didn’t keep them in the park tonight, and they made us pay for it.”
Pirates freshman lefty Kevin Brandt (9-1), on the other hand, held the Gamecocks at bay. He pitched six shutout innings before allowing Andrew Crisp’s two-run double in the seventh. Brandt, who left in the ninth after Dalles’ two-run homer, was no stranger to success this season. He pitched 8Ð shutout innings in a 4-0 victory against North Carolina in April, and he shut out N.C. State for 6 2/3 innings in a 7-0 win that same month.
“Kevin’s got what we look for,” East Carolina coach Billy Godwin said. “He’s got poise, and he’s got three pitches. When you’ve got that, you can be effective against anybody.”
Said Brandt, “I was just trying to throw strikes and put the ball in play.”
Reliever Seth Simmons gave up four hits in the ninth, including the big double to Thomas, but he forced Whit Merrifield to pop up and Jones to fly out with the tying runs on base.
“It was his ball and his game to win,” Godwin said. “What he did was pretty impressive. He stuck in there and got us two outs.”
The Pirates (45-18) stayed alive by winning two games Sunday. They defeated Binghamton 16-9 in the first game to eliminate the Bearcats.
“It was a long day,” Godwin said. “To come out and do the things they did, I couldn’t be prouder.”
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