No place like home? No kidding.
South Carolina used its formidable home-field advantage to defeat Campbell, 5-2, Friday night in its opening game of the NCAA baseball tournament.
The Gamecocks have won 28 straight postseason home games dating back to 2002, with the past 17 coming at Carolina Stadium. They’re also 59-8 in their NCAA history between Sarge Frye Field and Carolina Stadium since 1975.
Junior first baseman Kyle Martin got the momentum rolling against the Camels with a two-run single in USC’s three-run first inning, which gave the Gamecocks a lead they wouldn’t give back.
“The crowd here helps us out so much,” Martin said. “Our fans get into it when playoffs come around. That factor really plays into it.”
USC coach Chad Holbrook knows the streak will end one day – perhaps even Saturday against Maryland – but he can’t deny the Gamecocks find ways to win, especially in the postseason, at Carolina Stadium.
“We’ve won some games here that were in the balance and that were tough games. Our crowd gets into it,” Holbrook said. “Anytime you’re in a place where you’ve found a way to win a lot of games, obviously, your confidence level and psychologically, you’re always in a good place. That’s what Carolina Stadium creates for our players.”
USC (43-16) will play Maryland (37-21) Saturday at 7 p.m. in the winners’ bracket. Left-hander Jack Wynkoop (7-5) will start for the Gamecocks.
Holbrook hopes his players are looser and more relaxed against the Terrapins than they were against the Camels (40-20), who face Old Dominion at 1 p.m.
“We’ve got a little rhythm going. We’ve got the first one out of the way,” he said.
Junior left-hander Jordan Montgomery pitched eight strong innings to collect the victory. He gave up two runs on five hits and walked none while striking out nine. Montgomery (8-5) allowed a solo homer in the fourth to Seth LaRue that halted his scoreless innings streak in NCAA tournament play at 27 2/3 innings.
Right-hander Joel Seddon got the final three outs after Montgomery allowed a leadoff single in the ninth, although Seddon gave up an RBI triple to Will Albertson.
South Carolina jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning with three hits off Campbell starter Heath Bowers (10-4). Martin delivered his two-run single, and DC Arendas capped the rally with a sacrifice fly.
Campbell outfielder Matt Nadolski admitted that wasn’t how the Camels wanted to start, especially in front of 7,382 fans.
“The first inning really got to us,” Nadolski said. “Other than that, we settled in with the crowd. You don’t really hear it when you’re playing. It doesn’t affect you.”
The Camels kept it close but allowed the Gamecocks to score insurance runs on Marcus Mooney’s two-out, two-run single in the eighth inning off closer Ryan Thompson. Campbell coach Greg Goff called that the key point in the game because it gave his team too large a deficit to overcome in the ninth.
“We made some bad pitches in big situations, and their team did a great job of making our mistakes hurt us a little bit,” Goff said.
Mooney, a sophomore transfer, liked the energy in the ballpark in his first NCAA tournament game at Carolina Stadium.
“It was very exciting,” Mooney said. “I came down to the field thinking it was Opening Day all over again. That helped a lot, especially with our fans getting all pumped up.”
Mooney and Max Schrock led USC’s 11-hit attack with three hits apiece. Holbrook now looks ahead to winning the next game against Maryland without worrying about the larger context of the streak.
“It’s going to be a tall order for us,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll get their best shot. We’re going to need to be able to play our best to win.”