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March 16, 2013
COLUMBIA, Mo. - Give and take. South Carolina got the series, but lost the final game and the sweep. The motto says to win the series at home, and not get swept on the road, to have success in the SEC, and the No. 5 Gamecocks accomplished that.
USC beat Missouri 2-0 in Game 1 of a Saturday doubleheader, but lost Game 2 4-0. They weren't terribly happy, but at least they accomplished an SEC season-opening series win, and perhaps found some answers going forward.
"It makes it a little bit more gratifying, to be able to win two games without your No. 1 starting pitcher and your centerfielder, as well as some other guys that are banged-up," coach Chad Holbrook said. "We'll get on a plane and try to rest up and hopefully some of our guys will get healed."
USC will return home for two straight home series (Arkansas and Texas A&M) and see what it can find out. The Gamecocks continue to fight the injury bug, losing Graham Saiko to a wrist problem during the series and still not seeing Tanner English or Ahmad Christian return to the field. They've managed to scrounge their way past so far, playing TJ Costen, Connor Bright, Shon Carson and Sean Sullivan, and getting terrific starting pitching in relief of ailing ace Jordan Montgomery.
Everything's not perfect, but at 17-3, 2-1 SEC, everything could be a lot worse.
"When you take a series in the SEC, that's everything," third baseman Chase Vergason said. "Two out of three? We'll take it all day."
USC 2, MISSOURI 0
Nolan Belcher continues to get better, which is bad news for the rest of the SEC.
The Gamecocks' senior left-hander again pitched brilliantly, guiding the Gamecocks to a 2-0 win in Game 1 and a series win. Belcher (4-1) scattered five hits over 8 1-3 innings with no walks, one hit batter and six strikeouts, improving his absurd season totals to 36 strikeouts and one walk. He has thrown 32 1-3 straight innings without a walk, with only 14 three-ball counts during that span.
No Missouri player reached second base during Game 1. Belcher was in contention for his second complete game of the season, but a one-out single in the ninth brought on closer Tyler Webb, who recorded the final two outs for his seventh save.
"Nolan Belcher was incredible," Holbrook said. "He's been incredible all year."
Vergason cracked his second home run of the year and USC's other run scored on an error. After Max Schrock reached on a one-out single in the third inning, Joey Pankake ripped a single to center field. The hit-and-run was on, and as Logan Pearson fielded and then knocked the ball from his glove, Schrock rounded third and slid into home.
With the way Belcher was stacking balls in the strike zone, two runs seemed like an Everest of a mountain for Missouri to climb. Belcher is also working on a streak of 26 1-3 innings without a run allowed.
"I was able to spin some changeups in there," Belcher said. "I was able to get the ball in when I needed to. I didn't know how much more of a leash they were going to have on me in the ninth, but I guess when that runner got on, that was enough."
MISSOURI 4, USC 0
Playing the second of two games in 40-degree weather with an 18 mile-per-hour wind blowing into their faces, perhaps the result was predictable. But the Gamecocks insisted that there was no letdown, despite having already won the series.
"We hit the ball hard," Vergason said. "Wind held it up, and it could have been a different game if more balls fell down. Didn't happen."
Colby Holmes (1-2) had his third straight shabby outing, not getting out of the second inning as he allowed three hits, three runs and three walks. The Tigers got ahead early and rode dominant pitching late to salvage a win in their first weekend in the SEC.
USC only got five hits in Game 2, but it seemed a case of hitting the ball hard, just right at defenders. The Tigers (6-9, 1-2) turned several great plays, and reliever Keaton Steele struck out seven in six innings.
The Gamecocks' best chance to score came in the third inning, when Schrock led off with a single and moved to second on Vergason's walk. Pankake lined out to center to move Schrock to third, and LB Dantzler lifted a fly ball to shallow left-center field.
USC gambled and sent Schrock, but Pearson's throw home was perfect and nailed Schrock at the plate. The Gamecocks never threatened again, and while stellar relief work from Adam Westmoreland kept Missouri at bay, the Tigers scratched another run across in the seventh.
"Anytime you win on the road in the SEC, you feel like you win a series, it's a productive trip," Holbrook said. "It was a tough day to play. It's tough out here, especially our guys. I'm sure Missouri's a little bit more used to it than we are.
"We had five hits. We stung the ball pretty good. We got some balls up in the air. We just couldn't get anybody in scoring position or get any excitement going."
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