On a night when fans received plastic hardhats commemorating South Carolina’s new baseball stadium, the Gamecocks went to work rebuilding their postseason resumes.
After a weekend sweep at Arkansas put their SEC and NCAA tournament hopes in jeopardy, the Gamecocks needed a quick, pick-me-up project.
Enter The Citadel.
USC jumped on its instate rival for five first-innings runs Tuesday and rolled to a 10-2 victory, giving the Gamecocks a shot of confidence entering this week’s Tennessee series that will decide their postseason fate.
“After the weekend it was one of those games that we needed to score early to sort of get the edge away and we needed a quality outing from our starter, and we got that,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “Certainly, we feel a little bit better than we did a few days ago and now we’ve got to work out tomorrow, regroup and get ready for Tennessee.”
USC (35-18) took out its Arkansas frustrations on Citadel starter Matt Talley, who helped the Gamecocks’ recovery process by walking four of the seven batters he faced.
The Gamecocks sent 10 batters to the plate in the first against Talley (1-4), who left after recording one out following back-to-back, bases-loaded walks.
“The young freshman couldn’t find the strike zone and you can’t defend the walk,” said Bulldogs coach Fred Jordan, adding that he knew his team was walking into a “hornet’s nest” after USC was swept at Arkansas.
Kyle Enders greeted reliever Timmy Martin by grounding his first pitch through the left side for a two-run single that gave the Gamecocks a 5-0 lead, matching their run total from the final two games of the lost weekend at Fayetteville.
Whit Merrifield, who tied a season high with three hits, said the big first inning was good for USC’s psyche.
“Arkansas had great pitchers,” Merrifield said. “Coming out here and scoring a lot of runs and getting a lot of hits definitely will be good for our momentum going into the weekend.”
The Citadel (25-27), which has lost 14 of its last 17 games, will be the eighth seed in the Southern Conference tournament that begins May 20 at Riley Park in Charleston.
Right-hander Sam Dyson, the Gamecocks’ designated midweek starter, allowed five hits and two runs in 5 Ð innings. Dyson, who struck out seven and walked three, became the first USC pitcher to start 7-0 since Harris Honeycutt won all seven of his decisions in 2006.
Charleston-area natives Justin Smoak and Reese Havens smacked home runs for the Gamecocks, who are off today before opening the Tennessee series Thursday night.
Smoak’s three-run blast in the eighth was the 59th of his career, moving the junior into a tie for seventh place on the SEC career home run list. Smoak now has 194 RBIs and needs five more to pass Mac White as the Gamecocks’ all-time leader.
Havens said USC had “flushed” the three losses to the Razorbacks. Tuesday’s eight-run victory expedited the process.
“It was a tough weekend and we’re over it,” Havens said. “I’m already over the win. We’re ready to go for Tennessee this weekend.”
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.