Erik Payne became South Carolina’s fourth starting second baseman this season at the beginning of the Princeton series. The sophomore ended the series Sunday with the two big hits that cemented the No. 3 Gamecocks’ three-game sweep with a 3-1 victory at Carolina Stadium.
Payne hit a solo homer in the third inning and added an RBI double in the seventh. Both the homer and the RBIs were the first of his USC career. USC coach Ray Tanner gave Payne a shot after Chase Vergason and T.J. Costen didn’t step up. Connor Bright moved to shortstop to take over for Joey Pankake.
“We certainly needed everything (Payne) did today,” Tanner said. “He’s a kid who has worked extremely hard since he’s been in the program, and quite honestly, there were a couple of points it was really difficult for him. But he kept grinding it out, and guys who do that sometimes surface. He never went away. I threw him in there because he’s the right kind of person. I didn’t know that he would have a pretty good weekend for us, but I did it because of the person he is. I thought he deserved a chance. He handled it pretty well.”
The 6-foot, 180-pound Richmond, Va., native tallied eight at-bats last season in spot duty as a third baseman. But he earned the chance to start at second after showing he was stronger and more confident in the preseason. With LB Dantzler blocking him at third base as Adrian Morales did a year ago, Payne took advantage of his new opportunity and finished the weekend with no errors and four hits in nine at-bats.
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“The more at-bats you get, the more comfortable you’re going to get. That helped some, having consecutive days in there just seeing the baseball,” Payne said.
He understands the competition isn’t over, but he’s ready if his name is penciled into the lineup again.
“It’s open, and I’m just trying to do my best to help the team win,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get more opportunities there.”
Although he had not played second base regularly since his sophomore season of high school and didn’t take ground balls there until Thursday, he didn’t see the move as overwhelming.
“The first couple of innings (Friday), I was a little nervous because I hadn’t gotten any balls yet. But once the double play happened (in the seventh inning), I relaxed a little bit, and you get lost in the game and just play baseball,” Payne said.
The Tigers (2-5) managed three runs on the weekend against a USC pitching staff that compiled 35 strikeouts — 15 on Sunday — against three walks.
USC junior right-hander Colby Holmes (3-0) threw five scoreless innings before departing. He allowed four hits and one walk while striking out six and lowering his ERA to 0.89. Five relievers — two left-handers and three right-handers followed him — with freshman righty Evan Beal throwing a scoreless ninth to pick up his second save of the series.
“To hit this caliber of pitching, especially with the variety they throw at you, is tough,” Princeton coach Scott Bradley said. “They have so many different people, and the variety on the mound is really unique. They can start matching up like they did with us today in the sixth inning.”Tanner isn’t afraid to go to his bullpen because of the depth. He used eight pitchers in the series.
“We like our pitching staff from the standpoint that we think they’re pretty good and we can match up. That’s exactly what happened today,” he said. “ We can do some things to counter a situation in the game, and we’ve got guys ready to go. If we can get five or six innings out of our starter, then there are four or five other guys who can finish the game in one capacity or another.”
Payne launched a solo homer to left off Princeton starter Matt Bowman (1-1) in the third inning to give USC a 1-0 lead. The Gamecocks (13-1) upped the lead to 2-0 in the fifth when designated hitter Kyle Martin led off with a double to right After being moved to third on right-fielder’s Sean Sullivan’s sacrifice bunt, Grayson Greiner brought Martin home with a sharply-hit sacrifice fly to left.
Princeton cut the lead to 2-1 in the sixth off USC reliever Nolan Belcher when Sam Mulroy drilled a solo homer to left before Payne’s RBI double down the left-field line in the seventh, which followed a single by Martin and walk to Greiner, accounted for USC’s final run.
|Keller, Alec lf||4||0||2||0||0||1||2||0||0|
|Flink, Alex 2b||4||0||0||0||0||2||3||3||0|
|Mishu, John cf||4||0||0||0||0||1||3||0||2|
|Ford, Mike 1b||3||0||1||0||1||1||8||0||0|
|Mulroy, Sam c||4||1||2||1||0||2||2||0||2|
|Harrington, Steve rf||4||0||0||0||0||3||2||0||0|
|Albert, Ryan dh||3||0||1||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Owens, Peter pr||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Servais, Tyler ph||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|York, Jonathan 3b||4||0||0||0||0||3||1||0||3|
|Thomsen, Blake ss||3||0||0||0||0||1||2||2||0|
|Bowman, Matt p||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||3||0|
|Makis, Ryan p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Goetz, A.J. p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Evan Marzilli cf||4||0||1||0||0||0||1||0||2|
|Tanner English lf||3||0||0||0||1||1||2||0||0|
|Christian Walker 1b||4||0||0||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|LB Dantzler 3b||3||0||0||0||1||0||2||0||2|
|Kyle Martin dh||3||1||2||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Joey Pankake pr||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Brison Celek ph||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0|
|Sean Sullivan rf||2||0||0||0||0||0||2||0||2|
|Grayson Greiner c||1||0||0||1||1||1||15||0||0|
|Erik Payne 2b||3||1||2||2||0||0||1||0||0|
|Connor Bright ss||3||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Colby Holmes p||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Nolan Belcher p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Hunter Privette p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tyler Webb p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Forrest Koumas p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Evan Beal p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
E - Marzilli(1). LOB - PRIN 7; S. Carolina 6. 2B - Mulroy(2); Martin(3); Payne(1). HR - Mulroy(1); Payne(1). SH - Sullivan, S. 2(2). SF - Greiner(1).
|Bowman, Matt L,1-1||7.0||5||3||3||2||2||0||0||0||0||23||28||11||8||89|
|Colby Holmes W,3-0||5.0||4||0||0||1||6||0||0||0||0||20||21||7||2||83|
|Evan Beal S,2||1.0||0||0||0||0||2||0||0||0||0||3||3||1||0||17|
Win - Holmes (3-0). Loss - Bowman (1-1). Save - Beal (2). WP - Belcher(1). Pitches/strikes: Bowman 89/59; Makis 5/3; Goetz 13/4; Holmes 83/51; Belcher 13/9; Privette 10/6; Webb 14/11; Koumas 4/3; Beal 17/10.
Umpires - HP: Todd Drake 1B: Gary Swanson 3B: Richie Tallent
Start: 1:30 pm