The South Carolina baseball team honored many of its heroes from last season’s national championship team before Friday’s game, but a new hero emerged by the time the 2012 season opener ended.
LB Dantzler, a junior third baseman from the State College of Florida, laced a two-out single into center field in the eighth inning to give the two-time defending champs a 2-1 win over VMI before a sellout crowd of 8,242 at Carolina Stadium.
His first hit could not have come at a better time in a game that settled quickly into a pitchers’ duel — a scene reminiscent of last season when the Gamecocks won so many close games late with timely hits and strong pitching.
“It’s pretty special,” Dantzler said. “I’m just glad I could help the team win. That’s always the most important thing, getting the win. I’ll definitely remember it for probably the rest of my life.”
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Inserted into the cleanup spot, Dantzler impressed coach Ray Tanner, who began his 16th season at the helm and watched his team win an opener for the 14th straight season. Tanner liked how his newcomer handled the pressure, especially the way he took a 0-2 pitch from VMI reliever Alan Watts and lined it sharply.
“He’s a new player, but he’s comfortable with the bat in his hand,” Tanner said. “We threw him in the middle of the order right away. He had a good preseason. But it was a big swing for us after being down in the count. It’s great to see.”
The hit drove in leadoff man Evan Marzilli, who began the rally with a bunt single for his third hit of the day and moved to second on Adam Matthews’ sacrifice bunt.
“I wanted to see where the infielders were going to play. If they were playing me back, I was going to do that,” Marzilli said. “That was my original intention. The key thing was just getting on base and getting that run across.”
The junior center fielder also likes the look of his new teammate.
“He’s a great hitter,” Marzilli said. “Hopefully, he’ll keep on delivering and get some key base hits like that.”
Junior left-hander Tyler Webb picked up the win with 21/3 innings of scoreless relief. Sophomore right-hander Forrest Koumas, the team’s new closer, got the final two outs for his first save. In a tight game, Tanner had to go with veteran arms to finish things.
“The mission today was to put the guys out there that have a little bit of experience,” he said. “They did a nice job for us.”
USC senior left-hander Michael Roth left after 89 pitches over six innings. He gave up one run on four hits while walking none and striking out six. VMI right-hander Coby Cowgill matched Roth with seven solid innings. The only run he allowed was unearned, as he gave up seven hits and walked one.
With those two pitchers starting, Tanner expected a low-scoring game.
“I’ve been anticipating all week Cowgill was going to be difficult. He’s a veteran guy and had some good games last year. He was very efficient,” Tanner said.
But the coach also knows that’s the way of the world in college baseball with lower-scoring games the result of new bats introduced last season.
“Runs are hard to come by. The ball stays in the park. Not too many swings are going to leave the yard any more,” Tanner said. “You’ve got to play defense and score when you have an opportunity. We’re delighted we were able to win a game late today.”
VMI took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Cameron Walker drilled a one-out single and scored on a bloop single by Drew Bryan into left field.
The Gamecocks got the run back in the third. Junior second baseman Chase Vergason hit into a fielder's choice. With two outs, Marzilli singled to center to put runners on first and second before a wild pitch and a passed ball scored Vergason.
With six new players starting, it took the No. 3 Gamecocks some time to relax, especially in front of the big crowd. Dantzler admitted to some butterflies.
“Everybody’s a little nervous. About the fourth inning, after we made a few plays, we started getting settled in,” Dantzler said. “After the first inning or two, I kind of settled in and it just kind of became baseball after the first at-bat.”
He noted the former players have been helpful in the transition.
“Scott Wingo has been real good talking to me about what to expect. All of them have just been kind of hanging around and helping you get ready,” Dantzler said.
The second game of the series is at noon Saturday. The starting time was pushed up due to potential inclement weather later in the day. Junior right-hander Matt Price will draw the start for USC.
|TARSOVICH, Jordan lf||4||0||1||0|
|MORLEY, Jacob rf||4||0||1||0|
|PICCIRILLI, George 1b||4||0||1||0|
|ANGUS, Brandon pr||0||0||0||0|
|DICKINSON, Rob cf||4||0||0||0|
|WALTER, Cameron dh||4||1||1||0|
|WORTHINGTON, Chase 3b||3||0||0||0|
|BRYAN, Drew ss||3||0||1||1|
|WINN, Matt c||3||0||0||0|
|DWYER, Nick 2b||3||0||0||0|
|COWGILL, Coby p||0||0||0||0|
|WATTS, Alan p||0||0||0||0|
|Evan Marzilli cf||4||1||3||0|
|Adam Matthews rf||3||0||0||0|
|Christian Walker 1b||4||0||0||0|
|LB Dantzler 3b||4||0||1||1|
|Grayson Greiner c||3||0||2||0|
|Joey Pankake ss||3||0||0||0|
|Kyle Martin dh||3||0||1||0|
|Tanner English lf||3||0||2||0|
|Chase Vergason 2b||3||1||0||0|
|Michael Roth p||0||0||0||0|
|Tyler Webb p||0||0||0||0|
|Forrest Koumas p||0||0||0||0|
E - BRYAN, D.; Pankake. DP - VMI 1. LOB - VMI 4; S. Carolina 7. HBP - Greiner. SH - Matthews. CS - ANGUS, B.; Marzilli; English.
|WATTS, Alan L,0-1||1.0||2||1||1||0||1||0||0||1||0||4||6||1||1||18|
|Tyler Webb W,1-0||2.1||1||0||0||0||4||0||0||0||0||8||8||1||2||36|
|Forrest Koumas S,1||0.2||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||7|
WP - COWGILL, C.. HBP - by WATTS, A. (Greiner). PB - WINN, M.. Pitches/strikes: COWGILL, C. 92/54; WATTS, A. 18/11; Roth 89/63; Webb 36/23; Koumas 7/4.
Strikeouts - TARSOVICH, J; PICCIRILLI; DICKINSON, R 2; WALTER, C. 2; BRYAN, D.; WINN, M. 2; DWYER, N. 2; Matthews 2; Pankake. Walks - Pankake.
Umpires - HP: Randy Hoback 1B: Barry Chambers 2B: Mike Guerry 3B: Richie Tallent
Start: 3:02 pm