South Carolina came out with a purpose on Saturday. Knowing a win would clinch a share of the SEC regular-season championship, sending them to the SEC tournament as the No. 1 seed, the Gamecocks claimed a 3-2 victory against Alabama.
“I’m so proud of them, so happy for them. That they’re able to be the SEC champs today,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “I’m really almost amazed how they battled the entire season when we had situations that were very, very difficult.”
Both Florida and Vanderbilt won on Saturday, making the Gamecocks, Gators and Commodores co-champions, but you won’t hear that from Tanner or the rest of the team.
“We’re not using the word ‘co.’ If you go through the SEC and end up in first, we’re just regular-season champs and I’m sure they feel the same way,” he said.
South Carolina scored a run in the first inning when Christian Walker’s sacrifice fly brought in Scott Wingo. In the second inning, Stephen Neff launched his fourth home run of the year to give the Gamecocks a 2-0 lead.
“This park this weekend played extremely big, and you know when he hit that ball I’m thinking, ‘someone will run under it. (Taylor) Dugas will probably go camp out for that one,’” Tanner said. “He crushed it pretty good and it got out of here. Even though that was a solo home run, it was big. We only won by a run today and we needed every one of them.”
Alabama scored its first run in the seventh when Brock Bennett walked with the bases loaded to score Brett Booth.
South Carolina answered in the top of the eighth when Adrian Morales singled to left field to score Walker and extend the Gamecocks’ lead to 3-1. Walker reached on a double to start the inning.
Alabama’s final run came when Austen Smith scored on a hit from Andrew Miller in the eighth.
South Carolina pitcher Colby Holmes (5-2) went 6 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run on four hits.
“I knew I had to come out today throwing strikes,” Holmes said. “We came out today with a mind-set to win and I’m glad where we’re at. It was kind of close there at the end. I was getting kind of nervous but once Matt (Price) came in, I had faith in him that he was going to get us through it.”
Price picked up his 15th save, pitching 1 1/3 innings and striking out two batters. John Taylor relieved Holmes and set a school record with his 38th appearance this season. Tyler Webb pitched a third of an inning.
“We got a great start out of Colby. He tired a little bit, but then we get J.T. in there for a couple of outs and then Webb gets a big out for us,” Tanner said. “Price told me before the game today, he said, ‘I’ve got four outs in me,’ and I listened to him. I let him go get his four outs.”
The Gamecocks open SEC Tournament play at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday against Auburn.