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Cooper shuts down East Carolina

USC starting pitcher No. 27 Blake Cooper hurls the ball in the bottom of the fourth inning against ECU. Cooper pitched a complete game for USC.
USC starting pitcher No. 27 Blake Cooper hurls the ball in the bottom of the fourth inning against ECU. Cooper pitched a complete game for USC.

GREENVILLE, N.C. - South Carolina baseball skipper Ray Tanner admitted he wouldn't have minded never again setting foot in East Carolina's baseball stadium.

If he hadn't been there Friday, however, he would have missed a memorable day from Blake Cooper.

Cooper and the No. 10 Gamecocks helped erase some of the bad memories of the loss to East Carolina in last year's Greenville Regional, cruising to a 6-2 victory in the opener of a three-game series against the No. 13 Pirates.

The senior right-hander had his slider biting hard and his fastball finding the corners of the plate, and he ran his season record to 2-0 after a seven-inning outing. He held the Pirates to four hits and struck out four.

"I've had to live with losing down here for a long, long time," Tanner said of his team's loss in last year's regional. "I'd have been OK if we didn't come back here. But we're both playing tough schedules early - and that's a challenge - but I think we'll both benefit from it in the long run."

For Cooper, the effective slider represents the fruits of some serious offseason labor.

It not only seemed to fuel his outing, but also it helped Cooper keep his pitch count in check. His three-pitch sixth inning epitomized the outing.

"It's coming along for me and hopefully it's going to be a good out pitch for me," Cooper said of his slider. "I knew going in that if I got behind guys, they were going to make me pay for it. I was able to get ahead today."

Behind Cooper, the Gamecocks (4-0) made the most of their 10 hits. Catcher Kyle Enders ripped a pair of doubles and drove in a run, and Robert Beary, Adam Matthews and Nick Ebert also doubled in the win.

The series resumes today at 2 p.m.

"I think we're a little bit deeper on the mound," Tanner said, comparing this year's team to the 2009 Gamecocks and noting he was able to utilize five pitchers in Friday's win. "In the last couple of years, we really haven't had the ability to go to deep into the bullpen, and we sort of had to live with a couple of relievers."

Ebert, playing in his first game of the season after being academically reinstated, doubled and scored on a two-base error - one of three ECU miscues - to put South Carolina in the lead in the second inning.

The lead grew to 2-0 in the third on Beary's RBI double and 3-0 in the fifth when Whit Merrifield sped home on a wild pitch.

East Carolina cut the score to 3-2 when Corey Thompson connected on a two-run home run in the fifth, but the Gamecocks answered with two insurance runs in the top of the sixth and another in the ninth.

Enders doubled and scored on an ECU error in the sixth, and Scott Wingo scored on a bases-loaded groundout to make it 5-2. Enders' two-out double in the ninth rounded out the scoring.

"He split the plate," ECU coach Billy Godwin said of Cooper. "His fastball was sinking, and then he was throwing a slider that was going the other way. He's a competitor. We saw him last year in the regional and he beat us, and he pitched very well."

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