No Jordan Montgomery, no problem.
Sophomore right-hander Evan Beal pitched six scoreless innings in his first start of the season while filling in for USC’s ace left-hander to lead the No. 6 Gamecocks to a 2-0 victory against Rider on Friday night at Carolina Stadium.
Beal, who struck out six and retired 14 consecutive hitters at one point, knew he needed to do his part to give USC a chance to win without the injured Montgomery, who has a 3-0 record and 0.95 ERA.
“It’s no secret that Jordan is the heart-and-soul and ace of our pitching staff. With him out, that’s a huge blow as a starter and a guy that can really shut down a lineup on any given day,” Beal said. “I really didn’t want to do too much. I just wanted to let them put the ball in play. That’s a credit to the defense. They made all the plays.”
Senior closer Tyler Webb finished the one-hit shutout with 21/3 strong innings, as he struck out four while recording his fourth save. USC coach Chad Holbrook couldn’t have asked for more as he watched his pitchers step up in place of Montgomery, who is expected to miss two or three starts.
“We’ve had some things injury-wise around this program happen to us time-to-time over the years. One of the great characteristics about South Carolina baseball is we haven’t missed a beat in the past. I just challenged them not to miss a beat again,” Holbrook said.
Beal allowed a second-inning single and didn’t leave until he walked the first two batters of the seventh. Three relievers helped keep them from crossing the plate. Forrest Koumas induced a double-play ball, and after Vince Fiori walked his only batter, Webb got the inning-ending strikeout with runners on second and third.
The 6-foot-4 Beal, who was drafted out of high school in the eighth round by the Kansas City Royals, had one start in 28 appearances last season before beginning this season with two relief appearances. He didn’t know he would get this start until Thursday.
“It’s a different world, starting instead of coming out of the pen,” he said. “If I’m not throwing strikes, they’re going to lay off and I’ll walk a bunch of people. That’s the last thing I wanted to do tonight. I wanted to show them I could establish strike one and then work my off-speed.”
Beal (1-0) did just that, although he admitted that he didn’t expect to go that deep into this game. His performance will keep him in the conversation to stay in the weekend rotation next week. He hasn’t allowed a run in 92/3 innings.
“Evan gave us a great start in a pinch with what happened to Jordan. He threw strikes, worked ahead in the count,” Holbrook said. “As you all know, he’s got great stuff — (although) sometimes he can be his own worst enemy — but tonight he looked like a polished pitcher with big-league stuff. He was phenomenal on short notice.”
The Gamecocks (11-2), who play Rider (6-2) in the second game of the home series today at 4 p.m., took a 1-0 lead in the third inning thanks to a Bronc miscue. After designated hitter George Iskenderian singled, he came around to score with two outs when third baseman Adam Wayman threw away a hard ground ball by Graham Saiko for an error.
USC extended the lead to 2-0 in the sixth with three consecutive singles off Rider left-hander Tyler Smith by Saiko, Chase Vergason and Joey Pankake, who picked up his 12th RBI. Smith, who went all eight innings for the Broncs, allowed seven hits and struck out eight.
“We knew going into the game it was going to be tough,” Holbrook said.
But Smith (2-1) wasn’t tougher than Beal, who kept the Broncs from making solid contact over his 85 pitches as he threw 12 first-pitch strikes
“He’s more efficient when he throws strikes, works ahead in the count and lets his defense work. That’s called trusting your stuff,” Holbrook said.