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February 15, 2013
Overcoming some predictable Opening Day hiccups, South Carolina managed to make Chad Holbrook's head coaching debut a success.
LB Dantzler's solo homer and sacrifice fly helped USC build a 4-0 lead, but the Gamecocks watched pesky Liberty mount a late-inning rally before holding on for a tight 4-3 victory over the Flames on Friday in front of 8,242 fans at sold-out Carolina Stadium.
First-game jitters? Holbrook thinks so.
"I don't think the way we played today is indicative of the type of team we'll have. I think we were a little bit uptight," Holbrook said. "We feel very fortunate to have won. We didn't play particularly well. Liberty has a good team. We tried to tell our guys it was going to be a dogfight. I felt it was going to be a one- or two-run game going in."
Despite struggling for long stretches in the preseason, Dantzler collected two of USC's five hits and drove in two runs. He was the lone Gamecock with more than one hit.
The loss left Liberty coach Jim Toman, a former USC assistant under Ray Tanner, frustrated in the second game his program has played in Columbia since he left five years ago to take over the Liberty program.
The Flames out-hit USC 8-5, but left 14 runners stranded as they squandered multiple scoring opportunities until finally breaking through in the late innings.
But it was too-little, too-late for Liberty.
"We out-hit them and we probably out-played them," Toman lamented. "We had a couple of opportunities to score and we didn't, except for the double. We left too many guys on base. They have good pitching, we knew that. The difference was we brought in two relievers and one walked a guy and didn't field a bunt, and the other walked a guy and hit a guy. Other than that, we played a pretty good game."
USC starter Jordan Montgomery worked around three errors in his six innings or work, departing the game with a 2-0 lead. He allowed five hits in keeping Liberty off the scoreboard while striking out five and walking two.
"Jordan Montgomery pitched around some of our mistakes," Holbrook said. "Ultimately, that was the difference in the game. Jordan was terrific. He bowed his neck several times. He is unflappable. We knew that last year when he pitched against Clemson and Arkansas and pitched with our season on the line. We feel good about having him out there when things aren't going our way."
When USC scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh on a wild pitch and fielder's choice to take a 4-0 lead, the Gamecocks looked safe, especially with new closer Tyler Webb ready in the bullpen.
But the Flames wouldn't go quietly, nearly tying the game with one swing of the bat in the top of the eighth until Webb closed the door by recording the final five outs for his fourth career save, ending the game in Matt Price-like fashion with a called third strike.
"I don't think his stuff is as dominating as a Matt Price, but Tyler is very effective in his own right," Holbrook said.
Dantzler had the honor of scoring the season's first run when he hammered a home run down the right line off Liberty starter Carson Herndon for a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second.
It was a great start to the season for Dantzler, who suffered through a poor batting practice session prior to the game.
"If anybody saw BP, it was pretty bad today," Dantzler said. "It was definitely nice to get the first hit. When you get your first hit, you settle in. It felt great."
Shoddy Gamecock defense, a pair of walks issued by Montgomery and two singles presented Liberty with four runners in scoring position in the first three innings.
Liberty managed to get runners to third with two outs in the first and third innings, but fell 90 feet short as Montgomery worked out of trouble each time.
Consecutive singles to right with one out in the top of the fourth required Montgomery to work out of trouble again, this time with a fly to shallow center and a come-backer to the mound in which he flashed a quick glove.
A single by Pankake and back-to-back walks to Dantzler and Greiner filled the bases with two outs in the bottom half of the fourth, but Erik Payne grounded into a fielder's choice to end the threat.
After allowing the pair of singles in the fourth, Montgomery settled down, retiring eight of the next nine hitters he faced.
USC pushed the lead to 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth when Dantzler stroked a sacrifice fly to deep center, scoring Graham Saiko easily from third base. Saiko walked to begin the inning and quickly raced to third when the Liberty pitcher fielded a come-backer by Max Schrock, but threw low to first.
Patrick Sullivan took the mound in the top of the seventh for his 2013 debut and, after recording two outs, made USC fans squeamish by walking two Liberty batters to load the bases. But he whistled a called strike three past a Liberty pinch-hitter to end the threat.
The Gamecocks pieced together another scoring rally in the bottom of the seventh, scoring two additional runs on a wild pitch and fielder's choice. Vergason's bunt single was the only hit of the inning as USC benefited from two walks and a hit batter.
"We were fortunate enough to capitalize on a couple of their mistakes," Holbrook said.
Those runs proved significant when Liberty closed the gap to a single run in the top of the eighth. A single and two walks, the second by Forrest Koumas, loaded the bases with one out.
Two runners scored when Ryan Cordell rifled a double off the base of the left-field wall, falling short of a game-tying homer by just a few feet.
Moments later, an RBI groundout cut the deficit to one and moved the tying run to third. But Webb fanned the final Liberty hitter to end the outburst and closed out the deal in the ninth in rapid fashion.
HOW THE RUNS SCORED:
USC 2nd - Pankake grounded to third, Dantzler homered to right (RBI), Greiner flied to right, Payne struckout. ONE RUN, ONE HIT (USC 1-0).
USC 6th -
USC 7th - Payne walked (Carson PR), Costen hit by pitch, Vergason bunted down third base line, English grounded into fielder's choice (4-2), Costen scored on wild pitch, Schrock grounded into fielder's choice (6-4)(Vergason scored), Pankake flied to left. TWO RUNS, ONE HIT (USC 4-0).
LIB 8th - Wimmer singled to left, Britt flied to right, Sype walked, (KOUMAS FOR SULLIVAN), Paxton walked, Cordell doubled to left (2 RBI), (WEBB FOR KOUMAS), Aanderlud grounded to second (RBI), Close walked, Grauer struckout. THREE RUNS, TWO HITS (USC 4-3).
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