If you’ve got to beat No. 1 to be No. 1, as the old saying goes, the South Carolina baseball team continues to state its case for the top spot.
The defending national champions knocked off top-ranked Vanderbilt 3-1 Friday night at Carolina Stadium behind the sterling pitching of junior left-hander Michael Roth.
The No. 3 Gamecocks, who won a series against then-No. 1 Florida three weeks ago in Gainesville, improved to 27-6. More important, by winning the opener of the three-game conference series, they improved their record to an SEC-leading 11-2. The Commodores fell to 31-4 and 10-3 after having their 11-game winning streak ended.
USC coach Ray Tanner credited his veterans for not feeling stress in big-game moments, starting with the team’s title run a year ago.
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“When you’ve been in some situations time and time again, you’re better for it,” Tanner said. “That experience is great, and it has helped us.”
Nobody has proven to be cooler when the pressure is on than Roth, who improved his record to an SEC-best 8-1 by throwing three-hit baseball over 72/3 innings. He walked two and struck out eight to lower his ERA to 1.24.
“He’s done a great job,” Tanner said. “He accepted his role going into the year. He’s thrived in it. I didn’t expect him to be where he is numbers-wise, but it’s been great to watch. Our guys rally around him and feel good when he’s out there.”
Roth didn’t allow a hit until Curt Casali singled with one out in the fifth. Roth stranded him by striking out the next two hitters. Roth also pitched around a one-out double by Jason Esposito in the seventh inning. The Commodores didn’t score until the eighth inning, when Tony Kemp’s sacrifice fly brought home Bryan Johns, who had tripled.
“I stuck to the weekly game plan,” Roth said. “I threw some changeups and I felt like I had pretty good stuff tonight. I was just really locating well. I didn’t miss too many spots.”
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin came away impressed with Roth.
“There’s a reason why hitters chase out of the zone. There’s a reason there weren’t many opportunities tonight. It’s because of him,” Corbin said. “I don’t think you have to overanalyze it too much. He’s good. He’s good for a reason: He executes very well, he competes very well, and you’ve got to give him a lot of credit. He was the story tonight.”
Roth outdueled Vanderbilt ace right-hander Sonny Gray (7-2), who also pitched 72/3 innings, allowing three runs on a season-high 11 hits with seven strikeouts.
Gray, who’s considered one of the best college pitchers in the nation and a top-10 prospect for this summer’s MLB draft, gave up a solo home run to Peter Mooney in the seventh that gave USC a 3-0 lead. Mooney hit a high fly ball that got up in the wind and drifted out just over the fence in the left-field corner. It was Mooney’s second homer of the season and the first one off Gray.
Gray, who had allowed 30 hits in 522/3 innings entering the game, also gave up RBI singles to Scott Wingo in the third and Adam Matthews in the fourth. Wingo, Matthews and Evan Marzilli led the offense with two hits each. Wingo said the game plan was to avoid getting into two-strike counts while staying aggressive, a formula that paid off.
Closer Matt Price pitched a perfect 11/3 innings for his 11th save. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out all four hitters he faced.
“I just go out there every time and try to give my best. I had a little bit more adrenaline tonight,” Price said.
All the Gamecocks were pumped playing in front of a sellout crowd of 8,242, which Roth called an atmosphere typical of a game against Clemson.
“The fans did an incredible job,” he said.
Almost as incredible as the one Roth did.
Today’s game: The second game of the series starts at 7 p.m. USC sophomore right-hander Colby Holmes (3-0, 3.00 ERA) will face Vanderbilt junior left-hander Grayson Garvin (6-1, 2.04 ERA).
Ray Tanner postgame
Michael Roth, Scott Wingo postgame
Matt Price, Peter Mooney postgame
|Tony Kemp lf||3||0||0||1||0||1||1||1||0|
|Anthony Gomez ss||4||0||0||0||0||2||0||0||0|
|Aaron Westlake 1b||4||0||0||0||0||2||10||2||0|
|Jason Esposito 3b||3||0||1||0||1||2||2||5||0|
|Mike Yastrzemski rf||3||0||0||0||0||2||1||0||0|
|Curt Casali c||2||0||1||0||1||0||6||1||0|
|Connor Harrell cf||3||0||0||0||0||1||2||0||3|
|Riley Reynolds 2b||3||0||0||0||0||1||0||2||1|
|Joe Loftus dh||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Bryan Johns ph/dh||2||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Sonny Gray p||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Will Clinard p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Peter Mooney ss||4||1||1||1||0||1||0||1||3|
|Scott Wingo 2b||3||0||2||1||1||0||0||3||0|
|Jackie Bradley Jr. cf||4||0||1||0||0||1||5||0||1|
|Christian Walker 1b||4||1||1||0||0||0||10||0||2|
|Adrian Morales 3b||3||0||0||0||0||1||1||1||1|
|Brady Thomas c||4||0||1||0||0||1||11||1||0|
|Adam Matthews dh||4||0||2||1||0||1||0||0||0|
|Evan Marzilli lf||3||1||2||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Robert Beary rf||4||0||1||0||0||1||0||0||2|
|Michael Roth p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||4||0|
|Matt Price p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
LOB - VU 4; S. Carolina 9. 2B - Esposito(10). 3B - Johns(1). HR - Mooney(2). HBP - Morales. SH - Yastrzemski(6); Marzilli(7). SF - Kemp(2). SB - Wingo(4); Marzilli(4).
|Sonny Gray L,7-2||7.2||11||3||3||1||7||0||0||1||0||32||35||7||8||109|
|Michael Roth W,8-1||7.2||3||1||1||2||8||1||0||0||0||24||28||5||10||114|
|Matt Price S,11||1.1||0||0||0||0||4||0||0||0||0||4||4||0||0||22|
Win - Roth (8-1). Loss - Gray (7-2). Save - Price (11). WP - Roth(2). HBP - by Gray (Morales). Pitches/strikes: Gray 109/71; Clinard 1/1; Roth 114/71; Price 22/13.
Umpires - HP: Randolph Harvey 1B: Dennis McComb 3B: Paul Guillie
Start: 7:03 pm