May 11, 2014

Walk-off warriors: Pankake’s hit caps off USC’s SEC sweep of Missouri

Walk-off wins are a way of the world for the South Carolina baseball team.

Walk-off wins are a way of the world for the South Carolina baseball team.

Joey Pankake laced a bases-loaded RBI single with no outs in the ninth inning to give the No. 17 Gamecocks a 2-1 victory against Missouri on Sunday afternoon at Carolina Stadium, clinching a sweep of the SEC series.

The hit, which followed Max Schrock’s leadoff triple and intentional walks to Kyle Martin and Grayson Greiner, delivered USC’s fifth walk-off win of the season. The Gamecocks (39-13, 16-11 SEC) also defeated Ole Miss, Tennessee (twice) and Appalachian State with walk-off hits.

“Winning close games has been a thing for us this year. We’ve done it a few times,” Pankake said. “Not that we plan it out, but it’s really fun to win late in the game.”

Schrock knew he had to take a good approach against Missouri right-hander Keaton Steele, who held the Gamecocks to one run on five hits in his first eight innings. He wanted to hit the ball on the nose somewhere.

Schrock, who smoked the ball into the right-center gap, then anticipated Martin and Greiner would be walked to set up a force play at the plate for the Tigers, who moved an extra infielder in from the outfield.

“I had all kinds of adrenaline going through me there. It was a big swing of the bat for our team. I was just hoping to get home after that. I was dying to get home,” Schrock said. “I’ve got all the confidence in the world Joey can hit a ball to the outfield.”

USC coach Chad Holbrook liked how his veteran hitters responded in that situation against the hard-throwing Steele, who normally serves as Missouri’s closer and has nine saves.

“The guy just stuffed us for the first eight frames, but we were still in the game. It was a 1-1 game, and we were going to have the last at-bat no matter what,” Holbrook said.

“So our dugout had some energy in there. It was an important game, and our players knew it. We just needed somebody to step up and make a play. Max did, and then Joey followed him up. I’ve got some guys in here that know what it’s like to win a game in the ninth inning.”

Right-hander Cody Mincey (5-0) picked up the win with two innings of scoreless relief against the Tigers (20-30, 6-21 SEC), who have lost 12 straight conference games. He closed out USC’s second SEC sweep of the season after taking over for Wil Crowe, who threw seven strong innings after struggling the past month.

Crowe gave up one run on four hits and one walk while striking out four. That was in contrast to his previous five starts, when he went 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA over 222/3 innings.

“It took a great outing from Wil and Cody to keep them at bay,” Holbrook said.

Missouri took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when Dylan Kelly drilled a two-out home run. The Gamecocks got the run back in the fifth when Tanner English collected a leadoff single and stole second. He scored on Patrick Harrington’s one-out, infield single.

It stayed that way until the ninth-inning heroics. The result left Holbrook pleased with how his team enters the final week of the regular season, with a Tuesday home game against The Citadel and a road series against Vanderbilt that starts Thursday. The Gamecocks and Commodores are tied for second in the SEC East.

“Obviously, it was a big win for us, with all the implications out there in league play, so I am proud of our team,” Holbrook said. “We played clean baseball for the most part all weekend long. We were not that terrific offensively, but at the same time you have to tip your hat to Missouri because they have a good pitching staff. We did enough to win and now we have a big week ahead of us.”

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