South Carolina coach Ray Tanner pulled left-hander Steven Neff aside a day before he was going to make his first start of the season against Furman on Tuesday night and told the junior that he and pitching coach Jerry Myers believed in him despite two rough outings to open the season.
Neff responded with four scoreless innings as the Gamecocks rolled to their seventh consecutive victory to open the season, defeating the Paladins 14-1 at Carolina Stadium.
“I like what I saw, I liked the ability, the stuff that he brought,” Tanner said. “We believe in him, and he’s got a big-time arm. What I saw tonight was very good. He would probably tell you that he would like to make a couple of more (quality) pitches than he made, but his stuff was good and he’s going to get better as he goes.”
Neff needed an efficient outing. Opening weekend against Santa Clara, he was roughed up for three runs on six hits in 12/3 innings. This past weekend against Southern Illinois, he faced two batters, threw eight balls on nine pitches and hit a batter.
He seemed more comfortable starting Tuesday’s contest.
Neff allowed two hits and a walk to go along with a career-high seven strikeouts. He picked up his first win since beating Furman last season on May 18. USC announced beforehand that the game was a pre-determined split, so Neff needed to pitch only four innings instead of the customary five to earn the victory.
“I had to put the last outing behind me and start over again,” Neff said. “You can’t dwell on that. I’d like to start, but coming out of the bullpen, I have to do as good as I can. I think I was pretty good getting the start for the first time this year. I wouldn’t mind starting again, but like I said, that is the coaches’ decision.”
USC led 2-1 entering the sixth inning when the Paladins’ pitching staff suddenly couldn’t find the strike zone.
Christian Walker followed Jackie Bradley’s double with a two-run home run to left field, his second of the season. The sophomore has hit safely in 12 games dating to last season and drove in four runs to push his team-leading total to 12.
“After a pitcher starts you off with an off-speed pitch for a ball, you kind of think fastball coming, and he left it up,” Walker said of his home run swing.
Adrian Morales and Jake Williams followed with singles before Evan Marzilli advanced them with a sacrifice bunt. Scott Wingo walked to load the bases, and Morales scored on a wild pitch. Furman elected to intentionally walk pinch-hitter Michael Roth to load the bases to set up a double-play situation.
Adam Matthews popped out to first, but then the Gamecocks drew four consecutive RBI walks. Williams capped the nine-run outburst with a two-run single.
Furman (4-5) issued seven walks in all.
“It was a lot closer than the score indicated,” Tanner said. “That one inning we had some walks, we had a couple of hits that enabled us to have that big inning.”
USC (7-0) added to the lead in the seventh with an RBI single from Peter Mooney, an RBI triple from Bradley and a Walker single.
Colby Holmes, Forrest Koumas and Matt Price closed the game for the Gamecocks on the mound.
“I’m very happy about our pitching staff tonight,” Tanner said. “I thought we were extremely competitive on the mound. We ran some pretty good arms at them.”
The announced attendance for the first night game of the season was 6,162.
Next up for the Gamecocks are the Clemson Tigers at 7 p.m. Friday at Carolina Stadium; 4 p.m. Saturday at Fluor Field in Greenville; and 2 p.m. Sunday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson.
Ray Tanner postgame video
Jake Williams postgame video
Christian Walker, Steven Neff postgame video
|Will Owens lf||3||0||0||0||0||1||2||0||0|
|Andrew Cadger lf||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Aaron Thompkins 1b||3||1||2||0||0||1||5||1||0|
|Harrison Farmer 1b||1||0||1||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Will Muzika 2b||3||0||0||0||0||2||3||3||0|
|Cameron Allmendinger 2b||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||2||0|
|Taylor Johnson dh||4||0||0||0||0||2||0||0||1|
|Will Miller rf||3||0||2||0||0||0||4||0||1|
|Kevin O'Leary 3b||2||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Alex Abrams ph/3b||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Dylan Cole c||3||0||0||0||0||2||4||0||0|
|J.B. Jenkins ss||1||0||0||0||1||1||1||1||0|
|Hunter Burton ss||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Heath Burton cf||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|Rob Fondu ph/cf||2||0||0||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Nate Smith p||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Brian Dudzinski p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jay Friedman p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Robert Landers p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Mike Waller p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Brant Masters p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|John Paterson p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Adam Matthews rf||5||0||0||0||0||1||2||0||0|
|Erik Payne 3b||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Peter Mooney ss||4||2||1||2||1||1||3||1||1|
|Jake Watson ss||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jackie Bradley Jr. cf||4||3||2||2||1||0||0||0||0|
|Matt Price p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Christian Walker 1b||3||3||2||4||2||0||5||0||0|
|Adrian Morales 3b||4||1||1||1||1||1||1||1||1|
|DeSean Anderson rf||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jake Williams dh/lf||5||1||3||3||0||0||1||0||1|
|Evan Marzilli lf/cf||4||1||1||0||0||1||0||0||2|
|Robert Beary c||2||0||0||0||0||0||10||0||1|
|Michael Roth ph||0||1||0||0||1||0||0||0||0|
|Brady Thomas c||2||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Greg Brodzinski c||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Scott Wingo 2b||3||2||2||0||1||0||3||3||0|
|Steven Neff p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Colby Holmes p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Forrest Koumas p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
E - Thompkins(1); Cole(2); Bradley Jr.(2). DP - S. Carolina 2. LOB - FUR 4; S. Carolina 6. 2B - Thompkins(3); Bradley Jr.(4); Wingo(2). 3B - Bradley Jr.(1). HR - Walker(2). HBP - Miller. SH - Marzilli(3). SB - Walker(1); Marzilli(1).
|Nate Smith L,0-2||4.0||1||1||1||1||3||0||0||0||0||14||15||6||3||56|
|Steven Neff W,1-0||4.0||2||0||0||1||7||0||0||1||0||13||15||2||2||70|
Win - Neff (1-0). Loss - Smith (0-2). Save - None. WP - Landers(1). HBP - by Neff (Miller). BK - Dudzinski(1). PB - Beary(1). Pitches/strikes: Smith 56/37; Dudzinski 12/11; Friedman 17/8; Landers 20/8; Waller 20/9; Masters 17/10; Paterson 14/9; Neff 70/45; Holmes 35/20; Koumas 15/9; Price 12/8.
Umpires - HP: Tyler Simpson 1B: Richie Tallant 3B: Ben Sass
Start: 7:00 pm
Game notes: Predetermined split for South Carolina