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April 8, 2012
Ray Tanner was taking no chances. In the middle of what was shaping up to be a big inning, Tanner gambled.
And again came up a winner.
Adam Matthews' two-out squeeze bunt plated Chase Vergason to keep the fifth inning going, and it turned into a four-run cushion that paved the way for No. 11 South Carolina's 6-1 series-clinching win over Tennessee on Sunday. The Gamecocks (23-9, 5-7 SEC) won their second straight series and finally hit the ball in spurts, breaking open what had been a pitcher's duel.
"Adam is really proficient at putting balls down on the first-base side," Tanner said. "I saw it was there, gave him the look. (Chad) Holbrook put it out there for him and he executed it perfectly.
"Really proud of our guys. Been a battle for us."
USC's Colby Holmes (4-0) dazzled Tennessee as much as the Volunteers' Nick Williams (2-3) did the Gamecocks through four innings, but USC broke through in the fifth. Williams walked Joey Pankake and the Gamecocks immediately went to small-ball, with LB Dantzler bunting.
He got the bunt down and Williams' toss to first base sailed over the head of Will Maddox, who was covering from second. Dante Rosenberg sacrificed both runners up a base for the first out, but Williams couldn't take advantage and walked Vergason.
Tanner English also walked to earn the game's first run, and Evan Marzilli's fly ball was deep enough to score Dantzler. Ahead 2-0 but with two outs, Tanner noticed that the Volunteers weren't expecting a bunt, as Davis Morgan was playing off the bag.
He signaled it in to Matthews, who dropped the bunt right in front of the plate. Nobody covered first as the Vols picked up the ball but couldn't throw, and Vergason raced home.
"He gave me a push bunt. I got a good pitch to bunt," Matthews said. "One of the better bunts I've had in a while. Worked out good."
Christian Walker singled to make it 4-0 and Holmes had a hefty lead. Working both sides of the plate and never letting the Volunteers (20-12, 6-6) get comfortable, the junior was on cruise control until the seventh inning, when Chris Fritts touched him for a solo home run.
"All my pitches were really looking good today," Holmes said. "Like Tanner keeps telling us, 'Keep fighting, don't give up.' If we keep playing like we should, it will come around sooner or later."
Holmes struck out six and didn't walk a batter, to go with four hits and one run. He turned it over to Evan Beal, who worked around two walks in the ninth for his fifth save. Beal had an extra cushion when Rosenberg hit an eighth-inning ball that glanced off Steve Weaver's glove in right, which scored Pankake, who had singled home Walker with USC's fifth run.
Tanner was also relieved to see that the ball may be coming back to bouncing USC's way, too. The fifth may never have happened if not for a fortunate bounce.
Vergason was hanging off first base after the first out, with the bases loaded. Williams faked a throw to third base and had Vergason dead to rights with a throw to first, but the ball was low and bounced as Vergason slid safely in.
"We can get caught napping there with a good throw," Tanner said.
Instead, English walked to force in a run and the Gamecocks kept scoring. USC took the final two games of the series and prepared to host another middle-of-the-pack team, Mississippi State, next weekend.
USC rose into a muddled mix of teams fighting in the SEC standings, with only 9-3 Kentucky and 8-4 LSU holding decent leads. The rest of the teams are all beating up on each other, trying to finish above .500 in the league and cement their host spots for the NCAA Regionals.
"Being in the mix, gives us confidence that, 'Hey, we can do this,'" Holmes said.
It's a starting point. USC has 18 SEC games to play.
"We knew that after the Kentucky weekend that we were playing uphill," Tanner said. "And we're still playing uphill. But we've won the last two series."
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