In a game with postseason implications that could extend well past the seeding for this week’s SEC tournament, South Carolina was in search of a big performance on the mound Saturday.
And who better to deliver it in the Volunteer State than the 2013 Gatorade high school player of the year for the state of Tennessee?
Wil Crowe – a freshman from Sevierville, Tenn. – pitched the Gamecocks to a 6-3 win against Vanderbilt that secured a first-round bye as the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament.
The Gamecocks will play in the fourth and final game on Wednesday in Hoover, Ala., awaiting the winner of Tuesday’s first-round matchup between Mississippi State and Georgia.
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“Wil is a tough kid, a tough nut and he’s got the heart of a lion,” South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. “I didn’t think he would feel the pressure. It’s just another game, and we tried to take it as just another game. I really believe it.”
“People say it was for a national seed, but I’m not so sure. I mean Vandy could go down there and win the SEC tournament easily and, all of a sudden, I don’t think it’s just us against Vandy.”
In front of a sold-out crowd at Hawkins Field, Crowe retired the first nine Commodores who came to the plate. And after a bumpy fourth inning that netted Vanderbilt a 2-1 lead, the freshman settled back in and retired 10 in a row to get his team through the seventh inning.
“That kid (took it to us),” said Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, who recruited Crowe. “He did a good job, I mean he really pitched well. He’s a (darn) good pitcher and he is from the state of Tennessee – that’s too bad.”
Crowe matched a career high in strikeouts (nine) on the way to his first win since Mar. 30 against Tennessee.
Holbrook said a slight adjustment to Crowe’s mechanics was responsible for what he believed to be the sharpest breaking ball he has seen out of the right-hander.
“I was down in the zone all game,” Crowe said. “We’ve been working on it for two or three weeks now. I’ve been staying down, and it worked.”
After stranding 10 runners in the first seven innings, South Carolina broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the eighth with timely hits with runners in scoring position.
Kyle Martin secured the lead with a single up the middle on the first pitch he saw from Vanderbilt reliever Ben Bowden, plating Jordan Gore to give the Gamecocks a 3-2 lead. Joey Pankake and DC Arendas also had RBI singles to push the lead to 6-2.
Gore and Marcus Mooney each reached base five times Saturday to help South Carolina (42-14, 18-12) secure its second road series win of the season.
The Gamecocks have not won the SEC tournament since 2004, but they might have extra incentive to perform well in Hoover this season given that a national seed could be hanging in the balance.
“We’ve always looked to play well there,” Martin said. “We’re not just going in there playing lackadaisical or anything like that. I don’t know what we need to do to (host) Super Regionals or make a seed or anything like that. We’re going to go in there and play the same way and just keep the ball rolling.”