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March 3, 2013
Sunday was truly a Bright day for South Carolina.
The pleasing 8-0 blanking of rival Clemson clinched yet another series win over USC's most heated rival and featured offensive contributions from numerous players, including sophomore Connor Bright, who had only 87 career at-bats coming into the rubber game.
Bright delivered at the plate with a pair of hits, none bigger than a two-run double down the left-field line that capped a five-run uprising in the bottom of the sixth inning and gave USC more than enough runs to beat the Tigers.
"I knew (Clemson pitcher Scott Firth) was being aggressive and throwing a lot of strikes early in the count," Bright said. "I just looked for a fastball and turned on it."
Hitting eighth in the order, Bright added a single and a hit-by-pitch to finish the afternoon 2-for-3 with two RBI. He was one of three Gamecocks with multiple hits - Chase Vergason (2-of-4) and Grayson Greiner (2-of-4, RBI) were the others - that sparked USC's 11-hit attack.
"Connor is not the most talented kid on the team, but he has some of those intangibles that Chase Vergason has and Adrian Morales had," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "He believes he's pretty good. He's confident. He's aggressive. I felt today that if we were going to lose the game, I was going to go down with an aggressive bunch. That's why I put Connor in there. I wanted an aggressive guy that was going to swing."
Bright, who starred at Wando High School before signing with USC, started in right field for the second time this season, and the third time overall. While the position is unfamiliar to him and he has played mainly multiple infield spots with USC (he had seven starts at shortstop and three at second base in 2012), he has made the necessary adjustments.
"That was the second time I had ever played right in my whole life," Bright said. "(Holbrook) just stuck me out there. He had confidence in me. I appreciate it."
Besides improving as a defensive outfielder, Bright lifted his batting average 114 points to .364 (4-for-11) and his on-base percentage to .417. He has struck out just once in 11 at-bats so far this season.
"He has worked hard in the outfield. He's pretty good in the outfield too," Holbrook said. "Connor is not a bad player. He loves to be up there when the game is on the line. He has that attribute about him. There is no moment too big for Connor Bright."
Will Holbrook put Bright in right field again? Absolutely.
"I put him in right field in the series-deciding game against Clemson, so I'm comfortable putting him back out there," Holbrook said. "And I'm comfortable hitting him up in the lineup, too. Connor has been very good. He has probably deserved more opportunities than he's gotten. He's a big part of our team. I'm going to keep finding ways to get him in there and get him some at-bats. He could play second some, third some, DH some, left field some. That's one of the reasons we recruited him. He's a versatile kid. He can play all over the field."
Last season, Bright batted .228 (18-for-79) with nine RBI in limited playing time. He is best remembered for a couple of key hits in the postseason. He had a double in a 5-1 win over Oklahoma in the Super Regional and an RBI double in a 4-3 win over Clemson in the NCAA Regional.
BE AGGRESSIVE!: After mustering a disappointing seven hits - albeit six for extra bases - with eight strikeouts in Saturday's 6-3 loss to Clemson at Fluor Field, Holbrook wanted his players to swing the bat more aggressively at the plate on Sunday, since Firth is known for consistently throwing strikes early in the count. As a result, if a batter takes too many pitches from him, he will typically find himself behind in the count.
"We got a little momentum going," Holbrook said. "Firth is good. We were aggressive. That's what I wanted to see today, us swinging the bats a little more aggressively. I didn't ask them to bunch some hits together. I just asked them to swing.
"I thought we were a little passive (Saturday). A lot of that goes to (Clate) Schmidt, the kid that pitched so well. We had to get the bats off our shoulder. We did that today, especially in (the sixth inning) when we got some momentum."
* The two shutouts by the USC pitching staff this weekend lowered the team ERA to 2.25 after 10 games. Gamecock pitchers have allowed 64 hits and 29 runs in 88 innings with 86 strikeouts and 23 walks. USC's left-handed starters against Clemson (Jordan Montgomery and Nolan Belcher) combined to blank the Tigers on six hits in 17 innings.
* Holbrook on the Clemson rivalry: "Our guys know the Clemson series is very important. It's not just a regular series. It's important to them and it's important for us. It's two great baseball programs. I would have been very upset with my team if they hadn't been ready to go today and they didn't rise to the occasion. That doesn't guarantee that we're going to win. They had a chip on their shoulder today. It was good to see."
* USC out-hit Clemson 23-17 in the three-game series.
* Sunday's game was the first of an eight-game homestand for USC - two games with Ball State (Tuesday-Wednesday), three games with Rider (March 8-10) and single contests against USC Upstate (March 12) and Davidson (March 13) remain on the schedule. The next road game is March 15 at Missouri.
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