Jake Williams looked like a cleanup hitter Tuesday night.
Thrust into the role for the first time this season, the junior outfielder pounded out four hits and drove in four runs in South Carolina’s 9-5 win over UNC Asheville at Carolina Stadium.
“I liked it,” Williams said. “Anywhere I’m in the lineup, I’m going to try to score runs and get RBIs.”
His two-run double keyed a five-run fifth inning that broke open a tie game and catapulted the Gamecocks (42-11) to a victory in their final nonconference game of the regular season. They finished 12-2 in midweek games.
Williams, a transfer from Wofford, had singles in the first, fourth and seventh innings, driving in single runs in the first and seventh. He moved into the cleanup spot when senior catcher Brady Thomas did not play because of a strained muscle in his left foot, which he injured in the weekend series against Arkansas.
Thomas, who is batting .335 with four homers and 36 RBIs, will be re-evaluated before the Alabama series. The team is hopeful he will be ready to play after Monday’s X-rays were negative.
Williams more than picked up the slack against the Bulldogs (15-34). He raised his batting average from .263 to .280, and his career-high four RBIs gave him 30 for the season.
Williams was always convinced in his ability to play at the highest level.
“That was one of the reasons I left Wofford,” Williams said. “I envisioned myself being able to come here and contribute.”
USC coach Ray Tanner liked that Williams picked up the team on a night without Thomas in the lineup.
“He really had a great game,” Tanner said. “We needed all of his hits and RBIs.”
Adrian Morales, who had a pair of hits, also ripped a two-run double in the fifth, when the Gamecocks knocked UNC Asheville starter David Ricker (1-2) out of the box.
The starting lineup featured freshman DeSean Anderson in left field with junior left-hander Steven Neff, who played left the past two games, the starting pitcher. Anderson’s leadoff double in the fifth got the rally started.
Neff left the mound in the fourth inning when he issued a two-out, bases-loaded walk to Ian Graham that gave the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead. They loaded the bases on a hit batsman, a walk and an infield single. Patrick Sullivan came on to record a strikeout to escape the jam, while Neff moved into the designated hitter role.
Tyler Webb (3-1) pitched two innings in relief to pick up the win, although the Bulldogs scored three unearned runs off him in the seventh. Jose Mata picked up his first save with 21/3 scoreless innings.
“He seems to be much better coming out of the bullpen,” Tanner said of Webb, who began the season in the rotation.
The teams traded runs in the first and the fourth innings. South Carolina tied things up at 2 in the fourth on consecutive singles by Williams and Morales and a sacrifice fly by Robert Beary.
The Bulldogs went up 1-0 in the first inning when Mike Vaughn’s two-out single brought home Jordan Lurie, who reached on a throwing error by second baseman Scott Wingo. The Gamecocks got the run right back in their half of the inning to tie the game when Williams lined an RBI single to left that scored Peter Mooney, who led off with a walk.
“The thing about tonight’s game is they scored and we answered — three times,” Tanner said. “That’s big.”
USC travels to Alabama for their final SEC series of the regular season Thursday through Saturday.
Ray Tanner postgame
Jake Williams, Tyler Webb postgame