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Baseball: Gamecocks breeze past Upstate

SPARTANBURG -- Whit Merrifield was ready.

The USC outfielder already was on deck, helmet on head and bat in hand, before the lineups were exchanged for Tuesday night’s game against USC Upstate at Harley Park.

The reason for his eagerness: how about 25 mph gusts blowing out to right field?

His eagerness stemmed from was the direct result of the heavy prevailing winds blowing out to to right field, with gusts reached more than 25 mph, blowing the flags stiff.

Merrifield lifted a ball into the jet stream for a fourth-inning grand slam and drove in a career-high five runs as the Gamecocks knocked around the Spartans 14-6.

“As soon as we got here, we saw the flags,” said Merrifield, who played second base and center field. “A couple of the big guys tried to hit to the McDonald’s (down the street). I just stopped at batting practice and watched our big guys hit. It was just an unbelievable show today.”

One of those big guys, designated hitter Jeffery Jones, slugged his way into the lineup in batting practice. He was 1-for-3 with a double after USC coach Ray Tanner said he had planned to start Brady Thomas.

“Jeffery Jones had an incredible batting practice,” Tanner said. “Usually, I don’t get influenced by batting practice, but I did tonight.”

USC Upstate pitchers held South Carolina (27-14) to two home runs, but the a noteworthy accomplishment considering the elements. The other was a two-run shot in the first inning by Nick Ebert. The Gamecocks pounded out 16 total hits and owned a 10-2 lead in the fourth.

Nick Ebert hit USC’s other homer, a two-run shot in the first.

It was the first visit for any USC team to USC Upstate (10-29). The teams are scheduled to meet again May 12 in Columbia.

“I like going out on the road to all corners of the state,” Tanner said. “I know that our fans appreciate it, and our players appreciate it. A lot of people would say that’s not good scheduling, you shouldn’t do that. But I don’t look at it that way. æ.æ.æ. I liked playing in this environment. They had a pretty good crowd (1,022). I was glad to be here and bring our players up here.”

Greer native Andrew Crisp (Riverside High) was 3-for-5 with two RBIs and was robbed of a hit by USC Upstate right fielder Ryan Wilkins, who grabbed it just before slamming into the wall. Kyle Enders, Bobby Haney, DeAngelo Mack, Ebert and Merrifield also had two hits apiece. Merrifield was also hit by a pitch when he took a fastball off his head. On his next at-bat, he hit the grand slam.

“There’s no bad blood between us,” Merrifield said. “Maybe if it was Clemson, it would have been a lot of incentive. The guy just missed a pitch in. I’m glad I was wearing a helmet and have a hard head.”

Coincidentally, USC faces Clemson tonight at 7.

The Spartans (10-29) scored three times in the sixth inning to get make it 10-5. Jimmy Tanner led off with a double, Austin Moyer walked, Jeff Medley brought them in with a triple and Wilkins followed with an RBI single.

Wilkins, the Spartanburg High product who signed with South Carolina out of Spartanburg Methodist, also had a double and scored on a two-run hit by Kyle Simpson (Byrnes High School). The Spartans had nine hits and did not make an error.

“The first thing I think about tonight is that we competed much more than we did against Clemson (in a 14-0 no-hitter on March 14),” USC Upstate head coach Matt Fincher said. “To me that’s a stop in the process. æ.æ.æ. I was pleased with the way we compete. We did our best.”

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