Chad Holbrook wanted his players to come out and play like their hair was on fire in Sunday’s deciding game against Alabama.
South Carolina did just that.
The No. 11 Gamecocks pounded 17 hits to bust the game open late in a 9-3 victory against the eighth-ranked Crimson Tide to claim the clincher at Carolina Stadium.
“I just wanted them to give it everything they had today. If we lost, we lost,” Holbrook said. “I wanted them to play with great energy. I wanted them to play like our season was on the line. Sometimes I hesitate telling a team that because I don’t want to tighten them up, but when you play at South Carolina, that comes with the territory. If you can’t play under pressure, this is the wrong place for you.”
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USC (34-11, 12-9 SEC) responded in a big way, especially after Alabama (29-15, 13-8) tied the game with three runs in the fifth inning. The Gamecocks scored three runs in the sixth – highlighted by freshman outfielder Gene Cone’s tie-breaking two-run single with two outs – another run in the seventh and two in the eighth to pull away.
With second baseman Max Schrock (back) and outfielders Connor Bright (elbow) and Elliott Caldwell (back) out with injuries, Holbrook watched his team refuse to back down after a tough Saturday loss.
“We probably played our best baseball game of the year today in our biggest game of the year. When you do those things, it makes a coach proud,” he said.
Junior first baseman Kyle Martin led with four hits, while sophomore shortstop Marcus Mooney and freshman second baseman Jordan Gore collected three hits each. The 17 hits were a team-best in an SEC game this season.
Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard credited the Gamecocks for showing what makes them an annual contender.
“You could see the championship-type club come out in those spots. We didn’t have an answer for it today,” Gaspard said. “They put together good at-bats and good swings in pivotal moments in the game.”
The bullpen held off the Crimson Tide the rest of the way as USC’s two junior right-handers sealed the deal. Cody Mincey (4-0) tossed 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to lower his ERA to 0.67, and Joel Seddon went the final 2 1/3 innings, allowing only one hit for his 12th save and lowering his ERA to 0.58.
“We just try to go in and shut the door, pound down in the zone and throw strikes,” Seddon said.
Holbrook was ready to use his best two relievers, who didn’t pitch Saturday, to finish the back half of the game. But they didn’t have to sweat it out after the offensive explosion. Seddon said the players showed up ready to go.
“When we got to the field, I thought we had a more energy today,” Seddon said. “Our hitters stepped up big.”
Martin, who upped his team-high batting average to .350, cited the high energy in the dugout throughout the game, with players loudly encouraging each other.
“Obviously, we wanted to come out and play hard and play strong and keep the ball rolling,” Martin said.
USC freshman right-hander Wil Crowe cruised through the first four innings before running into trouble in the fifth inning, when he gave up three hits and two walks. The Tide rallied for three runs to tie the game at 3 as two-out RBI singles by Mikey White and George Salem capped the inning.
That’s why Cone’s single was so significant the next inning.
“After Alabama came back and tied the game, they punched us in the gut a little bit and zapped the energy a little bit out of our dugout. It was, ‘Uh oh, here we go again,’” Holbrook said. “That three-run sixth was a huge inning for us. That got us in a good spot to win the game.”
Cone and Gore, who made his ninth start, liked that the young players in the lineup could contribute in an important series.
“It means a lot. They’re a real good team,” Gore said. “They’re ranked in the top 10 for a reason. It was good being able to come out and beat them and win the series.”
Holbrook felt the same way after defeating a veteran club, although one that was missing its Sunday starting pitcher due to a suspension.
“We’ve been known to be a tough group and tough nuts and not get too frazzled when things don’t go our way. They’ve shown those characteristics and those traits through this adversity that we’ve faced,” he said. “We stood toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country for three games. It says a lot about our team.”
|White ss||5||0||1||1||Mooney ss||6||1||3||1|
|Salem cf||5||0||2||1||Cone rf||4||1||1||2|
|Moore rf||3||0||1||0||Pankake lf||4||1||1||1|
|Wass c||4||0||0||0||Martin 1b||5||1||4||2|
|Overstrt 2b||3||1||1||0||Greiner c||5||1||2||1|
|Smith 1b||3||1||2||0||Widener dh||3||1||0||0|
|Hughston lf||4||0||0||0||Arendas 3b||4||2||2||1|
|Greer dh||3||0||0||0||Gore 2b||4||0||3||1|
|Vincent 3b||4||1||0||1||English cf||4||1||1||0|
|Totals 34||3||7||3||Totals 39||9||17||9|
E—Hughston (4); Gore (3). LOB—UA 8; S. Carolina 13. 2B—Smith (11); Pankake (8); Greiner (9). HBP—English. SH—Cone (2); Widener (1); Gore (3). CS—Salem (3).
Crowe faced 1 batter in the 6th.
WP—Castillo (3). HBP—by Eicholtz (English). Umpires—HP: Mark Humphreys 1B: Damien Beal 2B: Randy Watkins 3B: Hank Himmanen. T—2:49. A—8074.