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February 26, 2013
South Carolina wanted to enter the annual three-game weekend battle with rival Clemson on a positive note.
Eight different players collected at least one hit and three pitchers scattered nine hits - four in the top of the ninth inning when Furman's hopes for a stunning last-inning rally were sabotaged by a bizarre base-running sequence - as the Gamecocks held off the pesky Paladins 5-2 in front of a sparse Tuesday crowd at Carolina Stadium.
USC will carry a 6-1 mark into the opener of the much-anticipated Clemson series at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. The two rivals will also square off Saturday in Greenville (2 p.m.) and Sunday at Carolina Stadium (3 p.m.)
Freshman left-hander Jack Wynkoop hurled 5.1 innings, allowing five hits with two strikeouts and no walks to earn the victory in his first career start. Throwing 55 pitches, 39 for strikes (a 70.9 strike percentage), the southpaw from Virginia Beach, Va., demonstrated maturity beyond his years.
"It was great to see Jack get out there and get his first start," coach Chad Holbrook said. "He threw strikes. No walks. For a young guy, he is advanced beyond his years. He has a chance to be a special pitcher for us. It was good to see him get out of the gate and throw the ball well."
After an encouraging relief stint from Evan Beal (2.1 innings, no hits, three strikeouts after struggling in the fall), USC was ready to wrap up a clean victory until Furman started the top of the ninth with four straight singles.
However, after driving in a run with a pinch-hit single, Griffin Davis suddenly stopped running about 30 feet from second base after apparently pulling a hamstring, and was tagged out on a throw from TJ Costen.
Tyler Webb fanned the final two Furman batters to close out his third save of the season.
"Tyler came in and did what Tyler does," Holbrook said. "It was a great win for us. We like the fact we have Tyler and Evan and some other guys late in the game. I was really pleased with the way Evan threw today. It makes me feel even better about our bullpen, which I already felt pretty good about."
USC stranded 12 runners - six in the first three innings - yet reached double figures in hits for the fourth straight game with a starting lineup that featured freshman Max Schrock at shortstop and Connor Bright at second base.
Besides swinging the bats, the Gamecocks also flashed the gloves with several outstanding defensive plays. Third baseman Chase Vergason made multiple diving stops of balls targeted for the hole.
"I was pleased with my team's effort. They were very focused today," Holbrook said. "We played well. We played great defense. Chase Vergason was special at third base. DC (Arendas) came in (at shortstop) and made some nice plays. The staple of our program has been to pitch and play defense, and that's what we did today."
Furman threatened in the top of the third, putting runners at first and second with two outs. It looked like it would take the lead when the next batter lined a single to left, but Graham Saiko fired a one-bounce bullet to Grayson Greiner, who applied the tag on the sliding runner for the final out.
That was as close as Furman came to scoring off Wynkoop, who set down the Paladins in order in four of his five complete innings.
"I was happy that the coaches wanted to give me the ball," Wynkoop said. "I didn't really get nervous. Maybe a little bit in the locker room before (the game). But once I got out there, it just seemed like normal baseball. I think I got most of my nerves out against Liberty."
The Gamecocks had opportunities of their own in the early going, leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the first (two singles and a hit batter) and stranding a pair of runners in the third.
Dantzler was plunked by a pitch from Furman starter Nate Smith for the second time and the struggling Erik Payne (1-for-10 when he strode to the plate) singled through the hole into left, but Greiner's come-backer to the mound ended the threat.
The eventful bottom of the fifth started when Schrock lined a double into the right-field corner (his third two-bagger of the season) and was followed by Saiko's walk and Dantzler's sharp single into right.
With the bases loaded, Furman brought in right-hander Drake Browne to face Payne. Browne got the junior from Richmond, Va., to bounce a grounder down the line to third baseman Chris Ohmstede.
He stepped on the bag to force Saiko at third, but his hurried throw to first to complete the double play skipped past the first baseman. As a result, Dantzler scored all the way from first with the second of two runs on the play, since Schrock scored from third on the initial grounder, and Payne ended up standing on third.
Moments later, Greiner's infield single scored Payne to make it 3-0.
Beal slammed the door shut on the Paladins in the top of the sixth when he supplanted Wynkoop with two runners in scoring position and one out. Beal fanned the first batter he faced and got the final out on a fly to shallow center.
USC padded its advantage by a run in the bottom of the sixth when Saiko stroked a sacrifice fly to deep right. The ball stayed in the park (it was caught at the base of the ball on the warning track), but it was far enough to easily score Costen from third to push the Gamecocks' lead to 4-0.
Costen's triple off the right-field wall plated Arendas, who recorded his first career hit with a double, in the bottom of the seventh.
By that point, USC had produced enough offense for a comfortable victory over a Palmetto State foe. Keeping the Paladins at bay was the primary focus after that, and a last-gasp effort by Furman to snatch a stunning road win unfolded in the top of the ninth.
However, USC's good fortune on the tag-out seemed to suck the energy out of Furman as Webb ended the game impressively with consecutive strikeouts, giving him six in 3.2 innings this season.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: After walking the only Liberty batter he faced on opening weekend, Wynkoop was sharp in his first career start. He faced only 20 batters in 5.1 innings, and combined with Beal to blank Furman in the first eight innings.
KEY MOMENT: Furman had USC seemingly on the ropes in the ninth when Davis drove in the second run of the inning with a single to right. But a pulled hamstring halfway between first and second base produced the first out of the inning and Webb took care of the rest with two strikeouts.
TURNING POINT: Because of a throwing error attached to it, an unassisted fielder's-choice ground-out by Payne with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth produced the first two runs of the game for USC.
HOW THE RUNS SCORED
USC 5th - English grounded to short, Schrock doubled to right, Saiko walked, Dantzler singled to right, Payne reached on fielder's choice (U-5) and advanced to third on throwing error (E5)(RBI), Dantzler scored on throwing error, Greiner singled to short (RBI), Arendas flied to right. THREE RUNS, THREE HITS (USC 3-0).
USC 6th - Vergason doubled to right, Costen hit by pitch, English walked, Schrock reached on fielder's choice (3-2), Saiko hit sacrifice fly to right (RBI), Dantzler walked, Payne grounded to short. ONE RUN, ONE HIT (USC 4-0).
USC 7th - Greiner flied to center, Arendas doubled to right, Vergason flied to left, Costen tripled to right (RBI), English flied to right. ONE RUN, TWO HITS (USC 5-0).
FUR 9th - Burton singled to center, Johnson singled to right, Nitto singled to center (RBI), (WEBB FOR SEDDON), Davis (PH) singled to right (RBI) and thrown out at second (9-6), Jones struckout, Burton struckout. TWO RUNS, FOUR HITS. GAME OVER (USC 5-2).
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