The South Carolina baseball team may not have outfielders Jackie Bradley, Adam Matthews and Evan Marzilli in the lineup, but there is plenty of firepower remaining in the form of Christian Walker and company.
The red-hot Walker got a seven-run sixth inning started with a solo home run on the way to a 9-6 victory against Liberty on Tuesday afternoon at Carolina Stadium.
The sophomore first baseman added an RBI single later in the inning as he extended his streak of reaching base to 26 games. The Gamecocks piled up seven hits in the inning, including RBI singles from veteran leaders Adrian Morales and Scott Wingo as well as a two-run single from pinch-hitter Michael Roth, normally the Friday night ace on the mound.
“We had seven or eight really good at-bats to keep the inning going,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “That was the difference for us.”
Walker, who went 10-for-11 against Mississippi State over the weekend, collected two hits in four at-bats with a walk and two RBIs.
“He’s the Terminator. He’s a robot,” said Morales, who also had a pair of hits. “He’s one of the best hitters I’ve seen by far. He’s locked in right now, and hopefully he can stay like that the whole year.”
Walker, who was moved from cleanup to the No. 3 spot in the batting order 10 days ago, improved his season totals to a team-best .374 average, nine home runs and 43 RBIs. The game was tied at 2 when he blasted his home run into the left-field bullpen off Liberty starter Garrett Baker (5-3) to match his season total from his breakout freshman year.
“It’s enjoyable to watch,” Tanner said. “It seems like right now that if he gets a pitch in the zone — no matter what it is, changeup, slider, fastball — he doesn’t miss it. Right now he’s zoned in pretty good, and that’s good to see. We need some pick-me-up guys.”
The quiet Walker downplayed his torrid pace.
“You get on a hot streak, and it seems like you can’t get out,” he said.”But at the same time, I can’t take anything for granted. I’ve got to keep working hard. I’m hoping my swing stays where it is.”
Second-ranked South Carolina (32-8) spoiled the homecoming for Liberty coach Jim Toman, who returned to Columbia to face Tanner for the first time since leaving USC after the 2007 season. Toman had to watch the game from the stands because he was serving a one-game suspension for an ejection against VMI over the weekend.
“These midweek games are a test,” Morales said. “We’ve got to come and show up no matter who we play. Liberty’s a pretty good team, so it was good to see us put up seven runs that inning.”
USC reliever Jose Mata (3-0), who pitched two innings, was the beneficiary of the big inning. The Flames (22-19) scored two runs each in the seventh and the eighth innings to close the gap before closer Matt Price pitched the final inning to record his 12th save.
The players understand the need to step up with key contributors out of the lineup. Marzilli could be back this weekend, but Bradley could be gone for the year and Matthews likely will not return until the end of the regular season.
“You kind of feel a bigger leadership role on your shoulders,” Walker said. “At the same time, you can’t really dwell on injuries and who’s out and what ifs. Coach Tanner is putting the best lineup he thinks can win the most games, and we take it from there.”
Morales agreed with that assessment.
“Everybody is trying to battle and help out. We’ve got a lot of guys injured,” he said. “I was just telling some other guys that now we need to step up even more.”
USC left-hander Adam Westmoreland, who was making his first start since March 30, allowed two runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings while striking out a season-high six batters. It was his longest outing since going 5 1/3 against Clemson on March 8.
“Adam Westmoreland was on the verge of having a special outing today. It was still a pretty good one,” Tanner said.
He hopes the Gamecocks can continue to play well through the adversity.
“It’s going to be hard, but the way I look at it, it’s always very, very difficult,” he said. “Maybe we have a little less room for error than we’ve had in the past, but that’s just the way it is.”
The Gamecocks play host to Auburn in a three-game SEC series this weekend.
|PARMLEY, I. cf||5||1||3||0||0||0||4||0||0|
|ROBERTSON, M rf||5||1||3||2||0||1||3||0||0|
|WILLIAMS, M. ss||2||0||1||0||3||1||1||2||1|
|SIZEMORE, J. dh||2||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||2|
|BREAM, T. 3b||5||0||1||2||0||3||0||0||4|
|TAYLOR, A. 1b||5||0||0||0||0||1||9||0||2|
|CORDELL, R. lf||4||2||2||2||0||1||2||0||0|
|JEFFERSON, J c||4||0||0||0||0||2||3||0||0|
|RASMUS, C. c||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|HALEY, Z. 2b||2||2||0||0||1||0||0||4||0|
|BAKER, G. p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||0|
|KEMMERER, J. p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|BROWN, D. p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|SWANSON, M. p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|BEAKLER, D. p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|DeSean Anderson cf||4||1||0||0||1||1||2||0||2|
|Scott Wingo 2b||4||0||1||1||1||1||1||1||1|
|Christian Walker 1b||4||1||2||2||1||0||5||0||0|
|Brady Thomas c||4||1||0||1||0||0||12||0||2|
|Jake Williams lf||4||1||1||0||0||0||3||0||2|
|Adrian Morales 3b||4||2||2||1||0||0||1||1||0|
|Peter Mooney ss||4||1||2||1||0||0||0||3||0|
|Robert Beary rf||3||1||1||1||1||0||3||0||0|
|Steven Neff dh||2||0||0||0||0||2||0||0||0|
|Michael Roth ph/dh||2||1||1||2||0||1||0||0||0|
|Adam Westmoreland p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jose Mata p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Tyler Webb p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Patrick Sullivan p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|John Taylor p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Matt Price p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
E - WILLIAMS, M.(10); BREAM, T.(12); Walker(6). LOB - LIBERTY 9; S. Carolina 7. 2B - Beary(6). 3B - Williams(4). HR - CORDELL, R. 2(2); Walker(9). HBP - HALEY, Z.. SF - Thomas(2). SB - PARMLEY, I. 2(19); ROBERTSON, M(10); WILLIAMS, M.(13).
|BAKER, G. L,5-3||5.1||7||6||5||0||3||0||0||0||0||25||25||6||7||75|
|Jose Mata W,3-0||2.0||1||2||2||2||1||0||0||1||0||7||10||3||2||39|
|Matt Price S,12||1.0||0||0||0||0||2||0||0||0||0||3||3||1||0||11|
Win - Mata (3-0). Loss - BAKER, G. (5-3). Save - Price (12). WP - BROWN, D.(3); Westmoreland(1). HBP - by Mata (HALEY, Z.). Pitches/strikes: BAKER, G. 75/52; KEMMERER, J. 8/2; BROWN, D. 18/10; SWANSON, M. 11/5; BEAKLER, D. 25/12; Westmoreland 75/51; Mata 39/18; Webb 1/1; Sullivan 13/7; Taylor 12/9; Price 11/9.
Umpires - HP: Richie Tallent 1B: David Brown 3B: Charles Bruce
Start: 1:00 pm Time: 2:42 Attendance: 6,404
Game notes: Game was halted at 3:25 p.m. due to lightning. Game resumed at 4:18 p.m. 53 minute delay.
KEMMERER, J. faced 2 batters in the 6th.