Another day, another injury to an outfielder, another win for the South Carolina baseball team.
This time, the Gamecocks saw freshman DeSean Anderson go down with a strained hamstring, but it didn’t slow them on the way to a 7-3 win against Auburn and an SEC series sweep Sunday afternoon at Carolina Stadium.
Second-ranked USC (35-8) needed a sweep to keep pace with No. 4 Vanderbilt (38-5) and No. 5 Florida (34-10) in the overall SEC race. All three have 17-4 conference records after the Gators and Commodores also pulled off weekend sweeps.
The Gamecocks have won all 11 series they’ve played this season, sweeping five. In conference play, they’ve won seven series, sweeping three and winning the every Sunday game.
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“The only thing you can ask as a coach is to go out and approach it the right way and play hard. Our guys have done that,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “I couldn’t have asked more from this team to this point. As I sit here today, this team has given me everything I can ask for.”
South Carolina, which played its first full series without All-America center fielder Jackie Bradley, keeps finding ways to win despite injuries, illnesses and suspensions in the past month. Anderson pulled up lame running to first — just as fellow outfielder Adam Matthews did against Vanderbilt in injuring his hamstring — during a two-run rally in the second inning.
Steven Neff, a pitcher most of his career, replaced Anderson in the outfield. Neff, who has filled in on several other occasions at the plate, lined a single to center in the two-run fourth, which featured RBI singles by Christian Walker and Brady Thomas as USC upped its lead to 5-2.
The South Carolina players can’t believe what they’re witnessing on the injury front, which included Bradley needing tendon surgery Friday.
“The reaction is, ‘Are you serious? Another guy going down?’ It’s been a tough year, but somebody’s got to step in, and Neff came in his first at-bat and had a base hit,” said senior third baseman Adrian Morales, who had three hits and an RBI Sunday. “We’ve got to stay healthy from here on out. I don’t think we have any guys left.”
USC freshman right-hander Forrest Koumas (5-0) pitched five solid innings to get the win. Closer Matt Price, who got out of a bases-loaded jam with a double play in the ninth, threw two scoreless innings to record his 13th save. The pitchers combined to hold a team that was hitting .303 on the season to six runs in three games.
With three SEC weekends remaining, the Gamecocks know they must keep winning with their competitors playing so well. Tanner, who tries not to look at the standings, noted that 20 wins usually wins the conference.
Not this season.
“It’s going to be different because of what Florida and Vandy have done,” he said. “We’ve played well and won some close games. They don’t seem to play many close games. We’re just plugging along. We’re going to try to win as many as we can.”
With USC holding the tiebreaker after series wins against Florida and Vanderbilt, Morales echoed that sentiment.
“We control our own destiny. We’ve just got to continue to play well and not even look at the standings,” Morales said. “At the end of the year, it’ll all figure itself out. All we’ve got to do is keep playing hard and trying to get every win we can in the SEC.”
Walker, Thomas, Peter Mooney and Robert Beary had two hits each — with Mooney and Thomas both collecting a pair of RBIs — in the 12-hit attack as Auburn (23-21, 9-12 SEC) used five pitchers. Starter Cory Luckie (1-2), who didn’t make it out of the second inning, took the loss, as the Tigers lost their 12th consecutive series against USC dating back to 1998.
Anderson’s injury will be evaluated day-to-day, but he will sit alongside Bradley and Matthews for the time being. Still, the Gamecocks keep winning, something the players believe they can continue to do no matter who gets hurt.
“It’s unfortunate, but at the same time, you can’t think about it,” Walker said.
Ray Tanner postgame
Christian Walker, Adrian Morales postgame
Matt Price postgame
Peter Mooney postgame