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May 4, 2012
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - No one's more happy to see May than Evan Marzilli.
After a seemingly 0-for-April where Marzilli couldn't wreck a gnat's flight pattern with his swing, much less a baseball, South Carolina's junior center fielder finally saw the calendar page turn. He embraced it with a double against Davidson on Wednesday to break a five-game hitless slump, then really wrapped his arms around May on Friday.
Marzilli's 10th-inning double scored Joey Pankake and put the No. 5 Gamecocks ahead to stay in a wild 8-6 win over No. 18 Arkansas, completing a stirring rally that kept USC soaring ever higher. After Florida beat Kentucky on Friday to clinch the series, the Gamecocks were all alone in first place in the SEC East, 1 1-2 games above the Gators and Wildcats while LSU remained tied with USC for the overall SEC lead.
Be it a suddenly discovered cohesiveness among the bats, or that USC is channeling the refuse-to-lose mentality that has served it so well over the past two seasons, the Gamecocks are streaking. Friday was USC's 12th straight SEC win, a continuation of the second-longest streak in school history, and came after the Gamecocks were staring at a 6-0 deficit after the third inning.
"I was praying that April would end, hopefully get things going at the end of the season," said Marzilli, who also scored the final run of the game. "We were pretty calm (after the 6-0 deficit). Everybody's learned what Carolina baseball is about."
That's winning, battling, fighting, everything that coach Ray Tanner stresses every day. Trailing six with their ace pitcher getting knocked around worse than he has in three years, USC could have packed it in.
"I'm really proud of the effort we put forth tonight," Tanner said. "It didn't look too good for us. We just kept fighting."
Michael Roth was battered for six runs in three innings, every hit finding a hole and the senior All-American giving up the most runs he has since he was a freshman. Roth, who also was graduated from USC on Friday, could only shake his head and keep trying to compete.
He found his stuff, just as Arkansas starter Ryne Stanek was losing his. After striking out four of the first six batters, Stanek started to lose steam, and USC was waiting.
The Gamecocks (35-11, 15-7 SEC) trailed 6-0 but jumped on Stanek in the fourth. Marzilli bunted his way on for a leadoff single and was followed by Christian Walker and LB Dantzler with back-to-back hits, the last which scored Marzilli. Grayson Greiner and Kyle Martin drove in runs with sacrifice flies and the Razorbacks' lead was cut in half.
Roth battled through three more frames, helped by Greiner throwing out a base-stealer in the fifth and Pankake helping start a double play in the sixth. Dantzler helped get Roth off the hook by starting the top of the sixth with a single, and Greiner further helped by belting a two-run home run into the left-field seats, the first long ball Stanek has given up all year.
USC tied it up against the Hogs' bullpen when Pankake drove in a run on a sacrifice fly. From there, USC and Arkansas traded outs as the Razorbacks' Cade Lynch, Colby Suggs and Barrett Astin fought against Gamecocks freshman Evan Beal.
Beal, the rookie from Virginia, worked two scoreless innings before facing the Hogs in the ninth. USC had stranded 10 runners over four frames and the score stood 6-6, as Arkansas led off with a walk, sacrificed him to second and moved him to third on a ground-out.
Beal knew that Tanner had trusted him to keep pitching when Matt Price and Tyler Webb were ready to go. "You've just got to stay ready," Beal said. "I knew we had an open base, and a walk is better than giving up a hit there and losing the game. I was just trying to situational-pitch the best I could."
Greiner helped Beal out by saving a couple of pitches in the dirt, then Tim Carver tapped to Pankake at short. The freshman loaded up and gunned Carver out at first, sending the game to extras.
Pankake beat out a one-out single in the 10th and moved to second when Carver threw wildly to first. Marzilli wasted no time, smoking a pitch into the gap that easily scored Pankake and left the junior on second base, excitedly clapping his hands.
"I saw him throw a lot of sliders up there, so that's what I was looking for," Marzilli said. "I got a good-enough piece of it to split the gap."
Dantzler followed with a two-out walk and Greiner singled through the box, beating the throw to first as Marzilli motored around third. The relay throw was in time and Marzilli was ruled out at the plate - a sprinting protest from Tanner, who leaped in front of Marzilli, argued that catcher Jake Wise had dropped the ball.
"He got blocked off, I saw the ball on the ground," Tanner said. "The great thing about that, third-base umpire Jeff Head saw it and he took over. I really didn't have to do anything except make mention."
Armed with a two-run lead, Tanner needed no script. He summoned Price from the bullpen, and USC's veteran fireman shut Arkansas down 1-2-3 in the 10th for his seventh save.
USC scored eight unanswered runs. Arkansas, after teeing off on Roth early, got two hits in the final seven innings. The Razorbacks (33-14, 11-11), fighting for their own division title, slipped four games behind LSU with eight to play.
The Gamecocks kept on winning.
"I'm not thinking about that, that's for sure," Tanner said. "We made a run, dug ourselves out. There's a lot of baseball left."
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