Steven Neff wanted to be the starting pitcher in Sunday’s game for the South Carolina baseball team, but Ray Tanner instead decided to play Neff in left field and start Colby Holmes on the mound.
With that one call, Tanner hit the daily double.
Neff rapped out three hits, including a pair of home runs to give him three in two days, and Holmes responded by throwing a strong 8 2/3 innings to lead the fourth-ranked Gamecocks past No. 23 Arkansas 7-1 in the decisive game of the series at Carolina Stadium.
USC (41-11, 20-7 SEC) rode the strong right arm of Holmes and a 14-hit attack off five Arkansas pitchers to stay in the hunt for the SEC regular-season championship. After losing the first game of the series, the Gamecocks bounced back to win the next two and forge a three-way tie with Vanderbilt (42-8, 20-7) and Florida (39-13, 20-7) at the top of the SEC standings with one series left to play.
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Holmes (5-2) put together the best start of his career while lowering his ERA from 4.17 to 3.70 and holding the Razorbacks (33-17, 13-14) to six hits. He tied a career high with seven strikeouts while walking one batter in the longest outing for a USC pitcher this season. After being bumped out of the Saturday starting role after a poor outing last week against Ole Miss, he made the most of Sunday’s chance, which came because pitching coach Jerry Meyers believed Holmes was a better matchup against Arkansas than Neff.
“I think he did make a statement, and that’s what you like to see from your players,” USC coach Ray Tanner said.
Holmes, who pitched well in relief Wednesday against Charleston Southern, wanted to redeem himself.
“I knew that I had to come out and throw strikes. It was kind of a mental thing. I had a bad week, so I knew I had to come out and show up this week,” Holmes said. “After the first couple of innings, I felt like today’s my day.”
Neff, who was 3-1 after beating Presbyterian on Tuesday, proved to be too valuable to take out of the lineup after Saturday’s two-hit, two-RBI game. On Sunday, he picked up where he left off with a single in the second inning, a two-run blast into the USC bullpen that gave the Gamecocks a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning, and a solo shot to the same spot that made the score 7-0 in the eighth.
“Steven has been hurt almost his entire career, but we recruited him as a two-way player and you can see that his athleticism merits that,” Tanner said. “Because of his injuries, he hasn’t had the opportunity to pitch as much as he would have liked or played. But there’s never been any doubt about his ability. It’s starting to show a little bit now, and it’s been kind of fun to watch.”
Neff, a two-way star coming out of Lancaster High, still considers himself a pitcher, but he likes the opportunity he’s receiving at the plate. After a slow start with the bat, Neff used his big weekend to boost his overall numbers to .306 with three homers and five RBIs. He believes he has knocked off the rust.
“The more ABs I get, the more I get to see the ball and the better I feel like I’m getting,” Neff said. “I’ve pitched more the past couple of years, and I’ve always considered myself a pitcher, but I’m having fun. I’m glad I got to hit, but I hope I get to pitch a little more soon. Either way is fine.”
Robert Beary, one of six seniors honored on Senior Day, also had three hits and one RBI, while Peter Mooney added a pair of hits and a sacrifice fly. Beary, who raised his average to .302, caught Holmes and came away impressed.
“He was hitting his spots, and he was locating his fastball,” Beary said. “If you locate your fastball, the other pitches are just set-up pitches. He was doing that well, and he used his curveball and slider well. When you stay down and stay low, it’s hard to hit.”
With two straight wins, the Gamecocks snapped a three-game SEC losing streak and righted their ship heading into the final weekend at Alabama.
“Baseball is a funny game. Sometimes you get in a little rut, and stuff happens. If you’re a good team, you’re going to find a way out of that rut,” Beary said. “(Scott) Wingo walking it off last night really helped us a lot momentum-wise for the series because it could have gone either way.”
Vanderbilt will play Georgia, and Florida will play Kentucky next week. If two teams or three teams are still tied after next weekend, those teams would share the division crown. USC beat both Florida and Vanderbilt, but those tiebreakers only apply to seeding in the SEC tournament.
“There are three good teams out there, and we’re neck-and-neck,” Beary said “The biggest thing for us is to play our game and win every inning, and hopefully, the cards fall in the right place with the other two teams.”
Tanner was glad to see Beary, Wingo, Adrian Morales, Brady Thomas, John Taylor and Jose Mata go out with a win on Senior Day.
“A lot of great things happened today for us in this program and our team, families and fans and senior players,” Tanner said. “That’s all you can hope for on a day like today. I’m extremely proud of those guys. It was a special day for us.”
The Gamecocks next play host to UNC Asheville on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Ray Tanner postgame
Steven Neff, Colby Holmes postgame
Robert Beary postgame
|Jacob Morris cf||2||0||0||0||0||2||0||0||0|
|Kyle Robinson ph/lf||3||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||2|
|Bo Bigham 2b||4||0||1||0||0||0||3||2||0|
|Dominic Ficociello 3b||4||0||2||0||0||0||1||0||2|
|James McCann c||4||0||0||0||0||1||4||1||2|
|Sam Bates dh||4||0||1||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Collin Kuhn lf/cf||3||0||0||0||0||0||3||1||1|
|Matt Vinson rf||3||1||1||1||1||1||2||0||0|
|Eric Fisher 1b||3||0||0||0||0||1||9||0||2|
|Kyle Atkins ph||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0|
|Tim Carver ss||4||0||2||0||0||0||2||4||0|
|Cade Lynch p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Brandon Moore p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Barrett Astin p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Nolan Sanburn p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Colby Suggs p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Peter Mooney ss||3||2||2||1||1||0||1||4||0|
|Scott Wingo 2b||3||0||2||0||1||0||0||1||0|
|Christian Walker 1b||4||0||1||0||1||0||7||0||2|
|Brady Thomas dh||5||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Jake Williams rf||3||1||1||0||1||0||5||0||3|
|Adrian Morales 3b||4||0||1||0||0||1||0||0||2|
|Evan Marzilli cf||2||1||1||0||2||0||5||0||0|
|Robert Beary c||4||1||3||1||0||0||7||0||0|
|Steven Neff lf||4||2||3||3||0||1||2||0||2|
|Colby Holmes p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Tyler Webb p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|John Taylor p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
E - Ficociello,D(8). DP - AR 2. LOB - AR 9; S. Carolina 10. 2B - Mooney(12). HR - Vinson, M.(2); Neff 2(3). HBP - Kuhn, C.; Wingo; Williams. SF - Mooney(3). SB - Carver, T.(16). CS - Morales(4).
|Cade Lynch L,4-3||1.0||3||2||2||3||1||0||0||1||0||5||9||0||1||39|
|Colby Holmes W,5-2||8.2||6||1||1||1||7||0||0||1||0||32||34||12||7||127|
Win - Holmes (5-2). Loss - Lynch, C. (4-3). Save - None. WP - Taylor(1). HBP - by Lynch, C. (Wingo); by Holmes (Kuhn, C.); by Astin, B. (Williams). Pitches/strikes: Lynch, C. 39/21; Moore, B. 27/15; Astin, B. 45/26; Sanburn, N. 27/15; Suggs, C. 10/8; Holmes 127/79; Webb 7/3; Taylor 4/2.
Umpires - HP: Rickey Armstrong 1B: Larry Short 3B: Steve Manders
Start: 1:37 pm ... Time: 2:51 ... Attendance: 8,142
Lynch, C. faced 3 batters in the 2nd.
Moore, B. faced 3 batters in the 4th.
Webb faced 2 batters in the 9th.