South Carolina delivered a 1-2-3 punch to Texas A&M in the form of LB Dantzler’s powerful bat and the strong left arms of Adam Westmoreland and Tyler Webb.
The senior first baseman drilled a pair of solo homers, and the two senior pitchers supplied 5 1/3 innings of knockout relief as the No. 17 Gamecocks defeated the Aggies 6-3 to complete the three-game sweep on Saturday afternoon at Carolina Stadium.
It was a far cry from last weekend’s result, when USC (22-6, 5-4 SEC) dropped all three games to Arkansas. USC coach Chad Holbrook was pleased by how his team rebounded against the Aggies (18-11, 5-4).
“You just try to win each series. In this league you don’t think about a sweep because it rarely happens,” Holbrook said. “If you get the series on the first two days, then you try to pump your boys up and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t enough. We’ve got to try to get another one.’”
Dantzler got the sellout crowd pumped with his homers. The first one tied the game at 2-2 in the fourth off A&M starter Daniel Mengden and the second provided the go-ahead run for a 4-3 lead in the eighth off A&M closer Jason Jester (2-1). Dantzler leads the team with a .357 average, nine homers and 32 RBIs.
“When we made a mistake, he didn’t miss them,” Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said. “That’s the sign of a great hitter. He’s one of the better hitters in the country, much less in our conference.”
Dantzler, who hit .262 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs last season, has found greater consistency in his final season. This was his second two-homer game of the season.
“Mainly, it’s just confidence. Last year, I started off a little slow, and I let that compound a little bit. I started telling myself that I needed to do more,” Dantzler said. “Before you know it, you’re starting to look at your average and you’re hitting .230 and (think) ‘All right, I’ve got to hit a 10-run homer right here,’ which you can’t do.”
Holbrook has planted him in the cleanup spot and watched him punish pitchers all season.
“He’s obviously been the threat in the middle of our lineup that we need. He has given us some good at-bats,” Holbrook said. “We want him to be aggressive. This is a park that’s made for left-handed hitters with some pop. He’s having a big-time year for us.”
Westmoreland (3-0) picked up his second victory of the weekend, allowing one run on three hits and one walk in 4 2/3 innings. Webb tallied the final two outs to record his third save of the series and 11th of the season. The duo have a combined 0.91 ERA in 25 appearances this season.
“Westmoreland and Webb both did a great job of getting their fastballs to the glove side, and we couldn’t adjust. They kept executing pitches,” Childress said. “Give South Carolina credit. They bounced back after a rough weekend and played at a high level all three games.”
Westmoreland, who threw 58 pitches Thursday and 66 more Saturday, has sparkled in his new role as middle reliever.
“I know in the past I’ve started some, and I spot-started some last year,” Westmoreland said. “I’ve been working out of the pen, and it feels a lot better this year than it has in the past. I’m a lot more comfortable.”
Holbrook didn’t want to use Webb a third straight day, but his closer needed six pitches to finish the game.
“I can’t say enough about our pitching staff. It’s no secret there has been no surplus of runs, that’s for sure,” Dantzler said. “We haven’t been scoring too much, so without them, we don’t win.”
Right fielder Connor Bright also hit a solo home run in the sixth to give USC a 3-2 lead. That helped erase the start of left-hander Jack Wynkoop, who struggled in his three-plus innings, allowing four hits, two walks and hitting two batters. In the end, the Gamecocks came out on top.
“Last weekend wasn’t exactly what we wanted, so we wanted to come out and play the game we knew how to play. I think we did,” Bright said.
Note: USC left-hander Jordan Montgomery, who is working back from an arm injury, had a good bullpen session Friday. He will throw again Monday, and if he is still pain-free, he could start next Sunday’s game at Tennessee.