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March 8, 2013
The way things are going, South Carolina pitchers are on course to surpass some kind of record for fewest runs allowed in a single season.
Evan Beal (six innings, one hit, six strikeouts, two walks, 21 batters), told on Thursday that he would make the second start of his career, and three relievers combined on a one-hitter as USC blanked Rider 2-0 in a fast-paced and low-scoring contest on Friday at Carolina Stadium in the opener of a three-game series.
The two teams will square off again at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
The fourth shutout in eight days for USC lifted the Gamecocks' record to 11-2, and dropped the Broncs to 6-2, snapping their five-game winning streak.
"The pitchers for both teams were terrific," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "Even Beal gave us a great start with what happened to Jordan (Montgomery) over the last several days. He threw strikes, worked ahead in the count and he had great stuff. Sometimes he can be his own worst enemy, but tonight he looked like a polished pitcher with big-league stuff. He was phenomenal on short notice."
Coming out of the bullpen with two outs and two runners on base in the top of the seventh inning, Tyler Webb dominated Rider by retiring all seven batters he faced, four by strikeout.
Only one ball left the infield against him as the southpaw from Nassawadox, Va., made mincemeat of the Rider hitters, throwing just 38 pitches for his fourth save of the season.
USC has allowed 17 runs in the past nine games, an average of fewer than two runs per game.
On a night where offense was at a premium, USC scratched out single runs in the third and sixth innings against crafty Rider left-hander Tyler Smith, who utilized a nice blend of pitches to keep hitters off-balance all night long.
"We knew going into the game that it was going to be tough," Holbrook said. "(Smith) has a split-finger and our hitters couldn't pick the pitch up. We tried to prepare our guys for a similar game against Manhattan in the NCAA tournament. You have a pitcher with experience that throws a pitch that's difficult to pick up. He was composed. It was a good team we beat tonight."
Freshman George Iskenderian singled with one out in the third and raced all the home on a two-out throwing error by the Rider third baseman on Graham Saiko's apparent inning-ending grounder.
The low throw skipped past the Rider first baseman, allowing Iskenderian to score from first with the only run USC would eventually need.
Three straight singles capped by a run-scoring hit by Joey Pankake into left increased USC's lead to 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth. The flurry featured a perfectly executed hit-and-run single by Chase Vergason that advanced Saiko to third.
Coming into the game, Beal, subbing for Montgomery, the normal Friday starter, had made 31 total appearances with one start in his career.
"I just wanted to get in there and throw strike one. Get ahead, stay ahead," Beal said. "It's a different world starting, compared to coming out of the pen. If I'm not throwing strikes, they're going to lay off and I'll walk a bunch of people. That's the last thing I wanted to do tonight."
Beal's next appearance on the mound could come next week when USC opens SEC play with a three-game series at Missouri.
The six-inning stint was the longest of his career by one full inning. Previously, Beal's longest outing had been five innings against Arizona in the national championship series last year.
"Evan is a talented pitcher," Holbrook said. "When he is on, he's awfully tough. It was a difficult call who to start between Evan and Forrest (Koumas). But that was as good as I've seen Evan Beal throw here."
Once USC went ahead by two runs, the rest of the game fell neatly into the hands of the USC bullpen. Forrest Koumas (2-3 innings), Vince Fiori (a walk to his only hitter) and Webb faced the minimum seven batters to end the game on a strong note.
After retiring the order in the top of the first, Beal faced his first test in the second when a one-out single and fielding error by TJ Costen in center, followed quickly by a wild pitch, gave Rider a runner at third with one out.
But Beal worked out of trouble with a foul-out to third and a strikeout, preserving the scoreless tie.
"I just wanted to show them I could establish strike one and then work my off-speed," Beal said. "I didn't want to do too much. I just wanted to let them put the ball in play. All the credit to our defense. They made all the plays."
Beal exited after issuing consecutive walks - his only free passes of the game - to start the top of the seventh. USC called upon the bullpen, bringing in right-hander Koumas to face the potential go-ahead run at the plate.
Koumas induced a double-player grounder to Vergason at third on a full count to produce two outs with one swing of the bat.
"Koumas came in and got two of the biggest outs of the game with that double play," Holbrook said. "We feel good about the win. We did some good things, but we did some things we have to shore up as well. We know we have our work cut out against a good Rider team."
At that point, USC pitching coach Jerry Meyers opted to bring in left-hander Fiori with a 1-0 count. Fiori promptly walked the lone batter he faced.
Sensing that it was time to bring in USC's closer, Meyers made the move to Webb, who came into the weekend with just two hits allowed, 10 strikeouts and three saves in five innings.
With the tying run on second base after a steal, Webb slammed the door shut on the Broncs, firing strike three past the first hitter he faced to end the inning.
"Tyler Webb was flawless," Holbrook said. "Bringing him in that early in the game was out of respect to Rider. They had one hit, but they were balanced, they had a good approach, they were trying to shoot breaking balls the other way. I love the way they play."
Somehow, despite three free passes given up by USC pitchers, Rider failed to score, maintaining USC's two-run lead.
Webb closed out USC's ninth victory in the last 10 games with three strikeouts in the final two innings, extending his scoreless stretch to 7 1-3 innings over seven appearances this season. He has allowed two hits with 14 strikeouts, lowering the opponents' batting average against him to .091 (2-for-22).
"I just try to come out of the bullpen and throw strike one and be down in the zone as much as possible," Webb said. "I want to have as many pitches as possible working for me right off the bat. To this point, I've done that pretty well and I hope to keep doing that."
PLAYERS OF THE GAME: Beal and Webb. The front and back end of USC's pitching staff dominated Rider, fanning 10 of the 28 batters they faced with two walks and one hit allowed.
KEY MOMENT: When Beal walked the first two batters in the seventh to put the tying run on base, the Broncs had their best opportunity to make some noise offensively. But Koumas got the double-play grounder and soon, Webb was on the hill.
TURNING POINT: The two teams combined for two errors, but one crucial miscue led to USC's first run in the bottom of the third when a wild throw on a seemingly routine grounder bounced past the Rider first baseman, allowing Iskenderian to score all the way from first.
HOW THE RUNS SCORED
USC 3rd - Bright grounded to short, Iskenderian singled to center, Costen struckout, Saiko reaches on throwing error (E5)(unearned run scored), Vergason grounded to pitcher. ONE RUN, ONE HIT (USC 1-0).
USC 6th - Costen struckout, Saiko singled to short, Vergason singled to left (Saiko to 3B), Pankake singled to left (RBI), Dantzler struckout, Schrock flied to center. ONE RUN, THREE HITS (USC 2-0).
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