For the second straight week, the South Carolina baseball team dropped a series-opening game to the No. 2 team in the nation.
Vanderbilt did the trick on this Friday night, as left-hander Kevin Ziomek defeated the No. 15 Gamecocks 3-2 at Carolina Stadium.
USC lost to then-second-ranked LSU last Friday in Baton Rouge before bouncing back to win the next two games of that series. The Gamecocks couldn’t muster much offense off Ziomek (9-2), who gave up only one run on eight hits and no walks, and now they must stage a repeat performance to win this series.
“Last week we did it on the road, and that’s what we’re going to try and do this week,” senior first baseman LB Dantzler said. “We still have confidence. We didn’t lose any confidence from tonight. We hit the ball hard tonight, and we could easily have been on the other side of that.”
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The Gamecocks fell to 33-13 overall and 13-9 in the SEC, while Vanderbilt improved to 40-6 overall and 20-2 in the conference. USC coach Chad Holbrook liked that his team outhit the Commodores 9-8 and struck out three less times, but the Gamecocks didn’t get enough key hits.
There also were a few standout defensive plays by Vanderbilt, including one by shortstop Vince Conde on a ball up the middle that saved a run in the fourth inning.
“We’re also playing an elite team,” Holbrook said. “To beat them, you not only have to be very, very good, which I thought we were tonight, you have to have a few breaks, and we didn’t get many breaks tonight.”
South Carolina got its first run in the eighth inning on Joey Pankake’s RBI double that scored Graham Saiko, who also doubled. Vanderbilt closer Brian Miller pitched the ninth inning for his 13th save of the season, although he gave up a two-out pinch-hit solo home run to Kyle Martin.
Vanderbilt catcher Spencer Navin drilled a two-out, two-run homer off USC starter Nolan Belcher (6-5) onto the left-field concourse in the second inning. It followed Conde’s single and gave the Commodores a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Vanderbilt upped the lead to 3-0 in the sixth on Conrad Gregor’s two-out RBI single off Belcher, who threw 121 pitches and left the game after that inning.
“There’s such a fine line to winning and losing the games,” Belcher said.
Holbrook hated that Belcher was a hard-luck loser again.
“He’s giving up everything he’s got. We’ve got to do more for him,” Holbrook said.
But Ziomek, who lowered his ERA to 2.03, played a huge role in that. He attacked the USC hitters and needed only 89 pitches, 64 of them strikes.
“We knew they swung early so, honestly, the biggest thing was just trying to throw first-pitch strikes and get ahead in the count,” Ziomek said. “We were able to do that tonight and had some success with it. Coming in here, this place is a great atmosphere, and obviously, South Carolina is a great team. We knew they had some momentum coming in, and we did, too.”
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin credited Ziomek for holding the Gamecocks in check.
“He kept the rhythm on our side for as long as possible against a dangerous group. It’s a dangerous crowd, too, so if they get the momentum on their side, it’s tough to get back,” Corbin said. “Winning is part of the culture here, and their kids are very confident. They know they’re going to win every game, and whoever they’ve got out there, it’s going to be a difficult proposition to beat them.”
Holbrook credited his players for playing hard until the end, and he expects that last weekend’s series comeback can serve as a blueprint.
“I’m sure we’ll reflect a little bit on what happened last week,” Holbrook said.
USC left-hander Jordan Montgomery (3-0, 1.40 ERA) will face Vanderbilt right-hander Tyler Beede (11-0, 1.63 ERA) in Saturday’s noon game.