USC baseball coach Ray Tanner looked drained as he sat in the media room after Sunday’s game against Vanderbilt. And for good reason.
Tanner had pulled out all the managerial stops in his team’s 5-3 victory against the No. 1-ranked Commodores in the deciding game of the series that vaulted the third-ranked Gamecocks into the lead at the midway point of the SEC schedule.
Working against convention, Tanner moved his slumping No. 3 hitter, Jackie Bradley, into the leadoff spot. He inserted pitcher Steven Neff into the designated hitter’s slot and then put him in the outfield late in the game. And he brought All-American closer Matt Price into the game to start the seventh inning with his team trailing by two runs, a move that resulted in Price batting in the eighth inning.
“I took the attitude that, while I realize there’s a lot of baseball left, and it’s only the halfway point, but you’ve got to try to find a way to win,” Tanner said.
Every move worked. Bradley had a pair of key hits, including a seventh-inning single that tied the game. Neff started the winning four-run rally in the seventh with a leadoff double to knock Vanderbilt starter Taylor Hill out of the game. Price pitched brilliantly, striking out seven in three shutout innings to record the win.
The result was USC’s second series victory against a top-ranked team this season — the Gamecocks defeated Florida in Gainesville three weeks ago — and a statement victory for the defending national champions. They improved to 28-7 overall and 12-3 in the SEC, while Vanderbilt dropped to 32-5 and 11-4.
Bradley, who entered the game in a 2-for-20 slump, also had a first-inning single and came around to score the game’s first run.
“We willed ourselves to win this game, definitely,” Bradley said. “We didn’t have a lot of hits to show for it, but we capitalized on the opportunities we had.”
Tanner put Neff in the lineup after Jake Williams was suspended last week for an alcohol-related offense and outfielder Adam Matthews re-injured his hamstring in Saturday’s loss.
“We have some adversity. We have some injuries,” Tanner said. “But all teams have situations that are difficult. You can either use it as a crutch or you can still find a way. Had we lost today, I still would have been proud of our guys.”
Tanner had no doubts about using Neff, who came to USC as a two-way player out of Lancaster High.
“Neff is athletic. I know we’ve got a few guys that have played more, but I like who he is,” Tanner said. “He didn’t seem to be fazed by a lack of experience.”
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin’s team wasn’t able to put away the Gamecocks after taking a 3-1 lead in the sixth on back-to-back solo homers by Aaron Westlake and Jason Esposito off USC starter Forrest Koumas.
“With Ray’s team, if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile because they’re a good team,” Corbin said. “And that’s what good teams do, especially in their home ballpark.”
USC rallied for four runs off five Vanderbilt pitchers in the seventh. Neff’s double was followed by a walk, a bunt single and a hit batsman to cut the lead to 3-2. Bradley’s RBI single to center tied the game, and Scott Wingo’s RBI groundout gave USC the lead. Brady Thomas completed the scoring with a sacrifice fly to make the score 5-3.
Price (4-2) made sure the Commodores would not come back, striking out Tony Kemp with runners at second and third to end the game.
“I knew I had to go in there and get one batter at a time and try to keep our team in it when we were down,” he said. “When we had that (four-run) inning, I was like, keep the same thing, the same mentality, and keep pounding it.”
Corbin saluted Price’s effort.
“He comes right after you. He’s tough to navigate,” Corbin said. “We didn’t even put the ball in play. He’s a special pitcher.”
After it was over, and the weekend’s third consecutive sellout crowd went home happy, Tanner seemed too tired to smile. But there was no doubting he was happy.
“I’m really proud of my players today,” he said.
The Gamecocks travel to College of Charleston on Tuesday for a 6 p.m. game.
Ray Tanner postgame
Matt Price postgame
Jackie Bradley Jr. postgame
Steven Neff postgame
|Tony Kemp lf||4||0||0||0||0||3||0||0||2|
|Anthony Gomez ss||4||0||0||0||0||0||1||4||2|
|Aaron Westlake 1b||4||1||1||1||0||2||10||0||0|
|Jason Esposito 3b||4||2||3||2||0||1||0||0||0|
|Mike Yastrzemski rf||3||0||0||0||1||1||2||0||0|
|Curt Casali c||4||0||3||0||0||0||9||0||0|
|Jack Lupo pr||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Conrad Gregor dh||4||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||3|
|Joe Loftus pr||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Bryan Johns 2b||3||0||0||0||0||1||1||3||0|
|Sam Lind ph||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Riley Reynolds pr||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Connor Harrell cf||4||0||1||0||0||2||1||0||0|
|Taylor Hill p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Corey Williams p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Will Clinard p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kevin Ziomek p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jack Armstrong p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jackie Bradley Jr. cf||5||1||2||1||0||1||2||0||2|
|Scott Wingo 2b||3||0||1||2||0||1||1||6||0|
|Christian Walker 1b||2||0||1||0||1||1||7||0||1|
|Brady Thomas c||2||0||0||1||0||0||11||0||0|
|Adrian Morales 3b||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1|
|Steven Neff dh/lf||4||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||3|
|Peter Mooney ss||3||1||2||0||1||0||2||2||0|
|Robert Beary rf||4||1||1||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Evan Marzilli lf||2||0||0||0||0||2||3||0||0|
|Greg Brodzinski ph||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Erik Payne pr||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Forrest Koumas p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tyler Webb p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Matt Price p||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0|
E - Yastrzemski(2). DP - S. Carolina 1. LOB - VU 7; S. Carolina 8. 2B - Casali(12); Wingo(7); Neff(1). HR - Westlake(6); Esposito 2(5). HBP - Kemp; Lind; Wingo; Walker; Morales; Brodzinski. SH - Thomas(3). SF - Thomas(1). SB - Esposito(10); Harrell(4). CS - Walker(3).
|Will Clinard L,1-1||0.0||1||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||1|
|Matt Price W,4-2||3.0||2||0||0||0||7||1||0||1||0||11||12||0||2||57|
Win - Price (4-2). Loss - Clinard (1-1). Save - None. WP - Price(1). HBP - by Hill (Walker); by Koumas (Kemp); by Hill (Wingo); by Ziomek (Brodzinski); by Armstrong (Morales); by Price (Lind). Pitches/strikes: Hill 99/61; Williams 5/1; Clinard 1/1; Ziomek 18/8; Armstrong 15/11; Koumas 74/46; Webb 9/7; Price 57/38.
Umpires - HP: Paul Guillie 1B: Randolph Harvey 3B: Dennis McComb
Start: 1:04 pm
Hill faced 1 batter in the 7th.
Williams faced 1 batter in the 7th.
Clinard faced 1 batter in the 7th.