The South Carolina baseball team threw a Sweet 16 party Tuesday night at Carolina Stadium.
With a 5-0 victory against Furman, the top-ranked Gamecocks won their 16th consecutive game to start the season, and for the ninth time, they shut out their opponent. It also was the fourth consecutive shutout, upping the pitching staff’s current scoreless streak to 42 innings and dropping the team ERA to 1.12.
“We’ve played 16 games, and we’ve played a pretty clean brand of baseball,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “I couldn’t be more proud of how we’ve played. We’ve pitched, and we’ve played defense, and we’ve done OK swinging the bat, too.”
Freshman right-hander Taylor Widener (1-0) got the start and the win, while Trey McNickle, Josh Reagan, Reed Scott, Hunter Privette and Cody Mincey finished with 5 2/3 innings of scoreless relief against the Paladins (6-10). The bullpen has thrown 47 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings since the first game of the season.
“Our pitching staff has been extremely deep with the number of guys we can throw in there, and we have confidence in all of them,” Holbrook said. “They throw strikes and let their defense play behind them.”
The defense, which has made 11 errors on the season, played its eighth errorless game.
“I feel like I didn’t have great control, but I was getting ground balls, and my players were making plays. My offense scored runs for me, too,” Widener said. “You can be relaxed up there because you know if you’re not on your best game, there’s going to be somebody in behind you that’s going to pick you up.”
Elliott Caldwell led the eight-hit attack with three singles and a pair of RBIs, while Kyle Martin drilled a solo home run in the seventh for USC’s final run. Tanner English had an RBI single and Connor Bright scored him with an RBI double in the second inning to give USC a 3-0 lead off Furman left-hander Billy Greenfield (1-1).
“We’ve worked hard all season long,” Caldwell said. “We’re going to continue to work hard, and we’re going to continue to battle at the plate, and our pitching is going to continue to throw strikes and keep them off-balance. That’s what we’ve worked on all year.”
The Gamecocks, who are off to their best start since the 2004 team’s 18-0 mark, open the SEC schedule with a three-game series against No. 21 Mississippi (15-2) Friday night at Carolina Stadium. Holbrook likes how his team has competed, but he knows things are going to get more difficult.
“We’re prepared,” he said. “That doesn’t guarantee us anything come Friday, because we’re playing a really talented, older team. It’s an incredible challenge.”
Holbrook expects to have junior third baseman Joey Pankake, who’s nursing a sore hamstring, back in the lineup for the SEC opener, but he’s less certain about sophomore second baseman Max Schrock, whose sprained left ankle isn’t healing as quickly. He hopes the next two days of rest will help Schrock get ready.