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March 4, 2013
Nolan Belcher came full circle on Sunday.
After a promising freshman year featuring an inspiring complete-game performance at Ole Miss, Belcher was slowed by arm trouble, eventually undergoing Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2011 season.
Belcher returned to action last season, but hurled just 29.2 innings in 19 appearances, taking the mound four times after May 1.
Now Belcher is pitching at the same lofty level he often did as a true freshman in 2009, when he was an acclaimed signee out of Augusta, Ga., quickly earning a coveted spot in the weekend rotation. In fact, he made 10 starts against SEC opponents that season, winning four of them, including back-to-back outings against Arkansas (April 4) and Ole Miss (April 11).
One Sunday, one Clemson base-runner reached third base in the nine innings against Belcher, whose complete-game shutout was the first by a Gamecock pitcher in the Clemson series since May 4, 1986, when Rodney Richey hurled a four-hitter in a 5-0 victory over the Tigers at Sarge Frye Field.
"He has experience pitching on the weekend and he's just now gotten back healthy," coach Chad Holbrook said Monday on 107.5 FM The Game. "He's been through a lot and rehabbed extensively. He's worked his rear end off to get back to this point. So, it was very special for me, coach (Jerry) Meyers, our staff and all his teammates to watch him perform like he did yesterday against a really good opponent and our archrival."
Since incurring a hard-luck loss to Liberty on the opening weekend of the season, Belcher has won his last two starts, improving to 2-1 with a 2.18 ERA in a team-high 20.2 innings with 23 strikeouts, compared to one walk. Opponents are hitting only .192 against him after his second career complete game.
Holbrook thought about lifting Belcher, but decided to give him an opportunity to attain his second career complete game. He did.
"I told coach Meyers that (Belcher) has worked extremely hard for a moment like this," Holbrook said. "If there was ever a situation where we could fudge on the pitch count and let the pitcher finish the game, it was (Sunday). He deserved it."
Belcher wasn't the only pitcher to turn in a magnificent outing in the series win over Clemson. Unflappable sophomore left-hander Jordan Montgomery cemented his status as the Friday starter with eight innings of three-hit pitching in a 6-0 victory at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Montgomery is 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA in 19 innings with two runs on 13 hits allowed. He is averaging one strikeout per inning (19) with seven walks and has allowed only three extra-base hits.
"He pitched in some very big games for us last year when the season was on the line," Holbrook said. "He's off to a great start for us. Going to Clemson and shutting them out is no easy task. He pitched an incredible game and we played great defense behind him (no errors)."
On Saturday, senior left-hander Adam Westmoreland worked 4.1 innings and allowed just one unearned run on three hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in relief of starter Colby Holmes.
Westmoreland's seven strikeouts tied for second-highest in his career and marked the most for him in a relief outing. Westmoreland has nine strikeouts and no walks in 6.2 innings this season. He has yet to yield an earned run.
"It's very encouraging the way Adam Westmoreland has thrown and to get off to the start he has gotten off to," Holbrook said. "We feel good about our pitchers. We need to keep them healthy and keep building upon what we've done to this point."
USC's left-handed pitchers combined for 26 strikeouts in the Clemson series.
USC allowed a meager 17 hits to Clemson in the three-game series, an average of 5.7 hits per game. The Tigers scored a run in just three of their 27 at-bats. In those innings, Clemson had a total of 10 hits, meaning the Tigers mustered just seven hits in the remaining 24 innings.
"We certainly relied on two incredible starting pitching performances by Jordan Montgomery and Nolan Belcher," Holbrook said. "It was fun to win the series here at home in front of our incredible fans. They made for an awesome atmosphere on Sunday."
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: Jordan Montgomery and Nolan Belcher
LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 3-1
OVERALL RECORD: 8-2
NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 6 in Baseball America, No. 6 in Collegiate Baseball, No. 7 in PerfectGameUSA
LAST WEEK'S RESULTS
Feb. 26 vs. Furman, W 5-2
March 1 at Clemson, W 6-0
March 2 vs. Clemson, L 6-3 (at Greenville)
March 3 vs. Clemson, W 8-0
BALL STATE, RIDER NEXT: The Gamecocks dive deep into the schedule with the first of three five-game weeks beginning on Tuesday with a two-game home series against Ball State. Later, USC faces Rider of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in a three-game weekend series.
Due to inclement weather throughout the weekend in Kentucky, Ball State (3-4) was scheduled to face Morehead State in a doubleheader on Monday before journeying to Columbia for the two-game set beginning on Tuesday.
USC announced on Monday that acclaimed freshman left-hander Jack Wynkoop will start Tuesday's game. Wynkoop threw 5 1-3 innings for his first career win in last week's 5-2 victory over Furman.
"(Ball State has) some older guys and one of the things that is concerning is they had all of their games rained out this past weekend," Holbrook said. "So, they're going to come in here and throw their number-one and number-two weekend guys (if they don't pitch on Monday) at us. That will present a challenge for us. They will be chomping at the bit to get outside and play. They will be ready to go, so we will have our hands full."
THIS WEEK'S SCHEDULE
Tuesday vs. Ball State, 7 p.m.
Wednesday vs. Ball State, 4 p.m.*
Friday vs. Rider, 7 p.m.
Saturday vs. Rider, 4 p.m.
Sunday vs. Rider, 1:30 p.m.
*Start time switched from 7 p.m. due to conflict with men's basketball game vs. Mississippi State.
* Closer Tyler Webb has made a team-high five appearances so far this season and recorded three saves in 4.2 innings. He has nine strikeouts to just two walks and opponents are hitting .143 against him. Webb has 83 career appearances, 19 behind all-time leader Matt Price (102).
* Spread the wealth: Nine different position players had at least one RBI in the Clemson series. LB Dantzler, Graham Saiko, Max Schrock, Grayson Greiner (a team-leading .364 (4-for-11) average against Clemson with a double and three runs scored), Chase Vergason and Connor Bright all had two RBIs against the Tigers.
* Dantzler continues to swing a solid bat with a .471 (16-for-34) average, four homers and 15 RBIs. He carries a seven-game hitting streak into the Ball State series. Dantzler's on-base percentage is a team-best .578.
* Batting left-handed has paid early dividends for Tanner English. The sophomore has reached base safely in all 10 games this year. English is hitting .300 (9-for-30) with eight runs scored and an impressive .475 on-base percentage.
* USC has a team batting average of .271 (86-for-317) with 64 runs scored. Defensively, USC has a team fielding percentage of .976 for the year with just nine errors in 10 games. The pitching staff has a 2.25 team ERA in 88 innings pitched with 86 strikeouts, 23 walks and 64 hits allowed. Opponents are hitting just .200 against the Gamecocks.
* Sunday's 8-0 win over Clemson was played in front of a sellout crowd of 8,242 fans, the second sellout of the season for the Gamecocks. USC owns a 22-6 record in 28 career sellouts at Carolina Stadium since its opening in 2009.
* The Greiner Effect: USC had had one only stolen base attempt against it in the first 10 games. "That shows the respect our opponents have for Grayson Greiner and Dante Rosenberg," Holbrook said. "They are two great catchers defensively that help control the running game. And our pitchers have done a good job holding runners."
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