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March 12, 2013
On a Tuesday night filled with extra-base hits by South Carolina, none was bigger than the one that rang off the bat of seldom-used Brison Celek.
The junior from Charleston had just four at-bats in the first 15 games this season, but got a rare start in the designated hitter role against USC Upstate.
When he stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth, USC clung to a precarious 4-3 lead over the Spartans. Celek ripped a 1-2 pitch into the right-center gap for a double, clearing the bases and giving the Gamecocks a comfortable 7-3 lead.
Handed a four-run cushion, USC cruised to a 12-3 victory over USC Upstate in front of a few thousand fans on a pleasant evening at Carolina Stadium, improving the Gamecocks to 14-2 heading into Wednesday's home encounter with Davidson, the final non-conference clash before SEC play begins this weekend with a three-game series at Missouri.
Seven of USC's 14 hits went for extra bases, including five doubles and two triples, and Upstate pitchers issued eight walks and hit a batter. Nine Gamecock batters had at least one hit, with Joey Pankake (who reached base five times) and the struggling TJ Costen (a .152 average coming in) leading the hit parade with three apiece. USC scored the final eight runs of the game.
"It feels good to beat a team that came in 10-4," coach Chad Holbrook said. "They played Kentucky awfully tight and had a nice little thing going. They have some older position players that are pretty good. We felt it might be a tight game, but we swung the bats well tonight."
Freshman left-hander Jack Wynkoop relieved USC starter Forrest Koumas at the beginning of the fourth inning, hurling 2 2-3 innings to get credit for his third win of the season against no losses. Patrick Sullivan worked the final 3 1-3 innings, allowing three hits with three strikeouts and a walk to earn his first save of the season and the second of his career.
The two teams combined for 24 hits and 13 walks.
Celek, who came into the game with only 70 at-bats in 41 appearances spread out over three seasons, could get another chance at designated hitter after his key hit proved a lavish reward for his patience.
"Coach Holbrook told me back in the day when I redshirted that he could see me hitting in the middle of the lineup, so I stuck with it," Celek said. "I thought of transferring, but this is a good opportunity to play for a big D-I school like this. I just stuck it out and hoped for the best and tried to work as hard as I can. Luckily, it's worked out so far."
Upstate seized on Koumas' early wildness by scoring a pair of runs in the top of the first on a sacrifice fly and RBI single.
After wasting a bases-loaded opportunity in the bottom of the first (a double play ended the inning), the Gamecocks responded with three runs in the bottom of the second to take a 3-2 lead.
Connor Bright tripled to right field for USC's initial extra-base hit of the night and soon scored on George Iskenderian's RBI groundout. A single by Dante Rosenberg, a double by Costen, a sacrifice fly to right by Sean Sullivan (who replaced Graham Saiko after the first inning) and a run-scoring single by Max Schrock plated two additional runs.
USC manufactured a run in the third to take a 4-2 lead, then pulled away in the bottom of the fourth when Celek followed consecutive two-out walks by clearing the bases with his clutch two-out double into deep right-center.
His sixth career double gave Celek 12 career RBI in 16 hits - along with a career-high in RBIs for a single game - and lifted his season average to .375 (3-for-8).
"I'm proud of Brison. He's had a great attitude," Holbrook said. "He wants to play more. He thinks he should be getting a few more cracks at it. Heck, I told him, 'I don't necessarily disagree with you.' He has some power. He works very hard. It was nice to see him clear the bases there. We hadn't had one of those alley balls with the bases loaded. It was good to see him contribute. He's a threat in there and that's why we gave him a chance today."
Celek is one of eight Gamecock players to start at designated hitter in the first 16 games of the season, prompting Holbrook to describe the future scenario for the position as "musical chairs."
"I think he likes being a student and baseball player at South Carolina," Holbrook said. "He will fight for his opportunities. When he gets them, he will try to make the most of them. That's his attitude."
LB Dantzler registered his only hit of the game in the bottom of the sixth when he delivered a two-run triple to right-center, scoring Schrock (walk) and Pankake (single).
Schrock and Pankake accounted for USC's three runs in the next inning with a two-run double and RBI double, respectively, within moments of each other.
"Joey continues to play well," Holbrook said. "I keep looking at 14 hits and no errors. Anytime you can get double hits and double-digit runs against a really good team, you have to feel good about yourself, and we do."
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Pankake was 3-for-3 with one RBI, two runs scored and reached base five times, adding two walks to his stat sheet. He also had three assists in the field as USC again played errorless baseball.
KEY MOMENT: Celek's three-run double gave USC some breathing room in the bottom of the fourth.
TURNING POINT: Pankake's diving one-handed grab of a sharp grounder targeted for center with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the third kept USC Upstate off the scoreboard and prevented it from taking the lead. USC scored a run in the bottom half of the innings and started pulling away in the fourth.
HOW THE RUNS SCORED
UPS 1st - Stampler walked, Lesch walked, Bumgardner sacrificed (1-3), Weber hit sacrifice fly to center (RBI), Seeba singled to pitcher, Patterson singled to center (TBI), Samples fouled out to catcher. TWO RUNS, TWO HITS (UPS 2-0).
USC 2nd - Bright tripled to right-center, Iskenderian grounded to second (RBI), Rosenberg singled to right, Costen doubled to left-center, Sullivan hit sacrifice fly to right (RBI), Schrock singled to center (RBI), Pankake singled to left-center and moved to second on throw (Schrock to 3B), Dantzler lined to right. THREE RUNS, FIVE HITS (USC 3-2).
USC 3rd - Celek walked, Celek moved to 2B on wild pitch, Bright grounded to third (Celek to 3B), Iskenderian singled to shortstop (RBI), Rosenberg grounded into 6-4-3 double play. ONE RUN, ONE HIT (USC 4-2).
UPS 4th - Miller singled to center, Greer sacrificed (1-3), Stampler singled to center (RBI), Lesch reached on fielder's choice (6-4), Bumgardner grounded to second. ONE RUN, TWO HITS (USC 4-3).
USC 4th - Costen doubled to left, Sullivan flied to center, Schrock struck out, Pankake walked, Dantzler walked, Celek doubled to right-center (3 RBI), Bright grounded to short. THREE RUNS, TWO HITS (USC 7-3).
USC 6th - Sullivan grounded to short, Schrock walked, Pankake singled to center, Dantzler tripled to right-center (2 RBI), Celek flied to right, Bright struckout. TWO RUNS, TWO HITS (USC 9-3).
USC 7th - Vergason struckout, Rosenberg hit by pitch, Costen singled to pitcher (bunt), Sullivan struck out, Schrock doubled to left center (2 RBI) and advanced to third on fielding error (E8), Pankake doubled to left (RBI), Dantzler lined to right. THREE RUNS, THREE HITS (USC 12-3).
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