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April 21, 2012
AUBURN, Ala. - The same ol' approach, the same ol' result.
Great pitching, a two-run homer and Matt Price equals yet another South Carolina series win over Auburn.
"We did some good things today," USC coach Ray Tanner said after the No. 9 Gamecocks' 5-3 win over the Tigers on Saturday, clinching USC's 13th straight series victory over Auburn. "Obviously we didn't swing the bats all that well. Our pitching was solid. Then we went to Price."
USC has won seven straight SEC games and four straight series, improving to 10-7 in the league (29-11 overall) after a rough 1-5 start. The Gamecocks viewed the middle four series of the season (Tennessee-Mississippi State-Auburn-Alabama) as a chance to get better, and thus far are humming right along at 98.6 degrees with clean bills of health.
"We're playing some good baseball right now," said Christian Walker, who gave USC the lead with a triple and scored on LB Dantzler's two-run shot in the sixth inning. "Everything's clicking."
Shackled by Auburn starter Jon Luke Jacobs and trailing 1-0 in the sixth, USC saw its best chance come down the pipe. Ninth hitter Chase Vergason started the frame with a walk, then moved to second on Joey Pankake's sacrifice bunt. Evan Marzilli also walked, Jacobs' only two of the game, and Walker stepped in.
Walker waited Jacobs out, knowing the hurler would probably throw a first-pitch strike, but if he could hold on after that, he could succeed. Sure enough, the count went to 2-1, and Jacobs threw Walker a fat pitch.
Walker crushed it to right-center, center fielder Ryan Tella on his horse but unable to catch up to it. Vergason and Marzilli scored to make it 2-1, with Walker sliding into third for a triple.
Tanner hurriedly gave some words of encouragement to cleanup hitter Dantzler, who had seemed to set a school record with balls to the warning track or balls hooking foul to right. Dantzler worked a 3-1 count and Jacobs made another mistake.
Dantzler swung and headed to first, watching the ball hook toward the foul pole in right field. It didn't hook quite enough as first-base umpire A.J. Lostaglio emphatically pointed it fair.
"It looked less than a foot (from the pole)," Dantzler said. "I was a little surprised that it actually did stay fair."
The two-run homer, Dantzler's sixth of the year, made it 4-1 and USC just had to play defense. Starter Jordan Montgomery (4-0) posted his fourth straight quality outing but tired in the sixth; Tyler Webb came in and gave up a run, but struck out Jay Gonzalez to end a bases-loaded threat.
Price entered for the eighth and gave up a monstrous homer to Garrett Cooper on his first pitch, a shot that hit the scoreboard an estimated 425 feet from the plate. But Price settled down, retired the side on his next nine pitches, and went 1-2-3 in the ninth for his fourth save, after USC used two errors from shortstop Dan Glevenyak to score another run in the top of the frame.
Game, set, match. USC hasn't lost a series to Auburn since 1997, when most of the current team was just beginning elementary school.
"We got off to a pretty rough start, and we kind of know it," Dantzler said. "Everybody wants to keep taking it one game at a time, and don't start thinking about what's coming up."
Montgomery struck out one and walked one in 5 1-3 innings, yielding six hits and two runs. Webb gave up two hits but struck out three. Dantzler and Walker each had two RBIs and supplied four of the Gamecocks' five hits, Vergason getting the other one.
USC did enough to get by, using some heads-up base-running in the ninth when TJ Costen, pinch-running for Kyle Martin, tore around third when Glevenyak mishandled a grounder. The Gamecocks will go for their second straight SEC sweep at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
"We don't do the quick-strike very often," Tanner said. "We don't have too many big innings. That inning was really good to us, and it worked out OK today."
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