GREENVILLE, N.C. — IF SOUTH CAROLINA NEEDS any example of how a team bounces back from a hapless loss, it need look no further than across the Clark-LeClair Stadium field.
Immediately following its lopsided loss to USC on Saturday, East Carolina and its coach, Billy Godwin, said the game already was in their rearview mirror. Godwin said his team was looking forward.
The Pirates then went out and won a couple of games Sunday, including an 8-6 decision against USC that sets up tonight’s one-game showdown for the regional title.
Now, all of the sudden, USC knew how East Carolina felt. The Gamecocks are one game from ending their season. Or, if they follow East Carolina’s lead, they are one game from playing this weekend in the Super Regional at North Carolina.
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There is no doubting that the mindset of Ray Tanner and his players could go a long way in determining tonight’s outcome. Tanner was asked if it was important that USC immediately forget Sunday’s loss.
“Absolutely,” he said, without hesitation. “If you had asked our guys three or four weeks ago: ‘Hey, we’re going to be on the road. We’re going to be in Greenville. But it’s one-game shootout. Will you sign for it?’
“I think you would have had a lot of checks. We had a mulligan (on Sunday). We used it. Now we’ve got to play very, very well (tonight).”
The games on Saturday and Sunday proved to be contrasting. Every USC ground ball seemed to sneak through the infield for a base hit and every USC fly ball seemed to carry over the fence for a home run in Saturday’s 12-2 East Carolina victory.
On the other side of the scorecard, every East Carolina ground ball seemed to turn into a double play and every East Carolina fly ball seemed to find a USC glove.
“That’s probably the most disappointing part about it is that we had so many hits and so many opportunities but just couldn’t capitalize,” said East Carolina first baseman Brandon Henderson, after his team only could convert 14 hits into two runs.
Then came a reversal of baseball fortunes on Sunday.
Whereas Justin Dalles stepped out of the batter’s box, then back in before clubbing a two-run homer on Saturday, East Carolina’s Dustin Harrington hit what appeared to be a routine fly ball off the end of his bat Sunday and it carried over the right field fence for a home run.
Further proving it just was not USC’s night in Sunday’s loss, Adam Matthews belted what looked to be a certain home run in the fifth inning. But 6-foot-3 East Carolina right fielder Devin Harris used his height to leap high above the fence to rob Matthews. Then, in the eighth inning, DeAngelo Mack’s line drive to left field was snared at the fence by East Carolina’s Stephen Batts.
The night was not good for Tanner, either. His lineup snafu cost USC the use of the designated hitter in the ninth inning, meaning that Mack could not bat with the tying runs in scoring position and two outs. Instead, Tanner sent seldom-used Jeffery Jones to the plate and his fly ball to center ended the game.
But just as East Carolina kept its head up despite facing a difficult predicament following Saturday’s loss, there did not appear to be any hanging heads on USC after Sunday’s game.
Third baseman Andrew Crisp was adamant that USC was in good spirits.
“We’re upbeat. We’ve got another game. We obviously would have loved to take this one, but it’s baseball,” Crisp said. “You’re not going to win all the time and, hopefully, you put the right guys out there and make the right pitches and get hits at timely times.
“(Tonight), we’re going to go out and play hard and play smart and do the things we’ve done to get here. We’re extremely upbeat about it. If you ask me, we’re doing the right things to put ourselves in a situation to win. That’s all you want to do, and you hope to do when it comes down to winning a ball game.”
It was that kind of mental approach that East Carolina took into Sunday, and one that should serve USC well tonight in its quest to reach the Super Regionals.
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