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March 21, 2012

USC falls to Wofford in extra innings

VIDEO: Christian Walker, Evan Marzilli

This is not what South Carolina envisioned heading into a much-anticipated SEC showdown series starting today against top-ranked Florida.

An excessive number of walks (nine) issued by six USC hurlers finally caught up with the Gamecocks as Wofford turned a leadoff base-on-balls into the eventual winning run in the top of the 11th inning as the Terriers upended USC 5-4 before 6,923 fans in a three-hour, 41-minute marathon on Wednesday at Carolina Stadium.

It was the first midweek home loss for USC since 2009, and also the fourth loss in five games for the Gamecocks, entering arguably the biggest conference series of the season.

USC's first home loss of the 2012 season in 15 games dropped the Gamecocks to 16-5.

Game 1 of the Florida series is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. start today. ESPNU will nationally televise the contest.

"We've played 21 games and it seems like all of them have been three, four or five runs in this kind of environment," coach Ray Tanner said. "We've been through it. Hopefully, we're prepared. Obviously, we would certainly like to be playing a little better than we have been. But it's part of the game. We have to be ready to go (Thursday)."

USC walked Wofford's leadoff hitter in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings, but the Gamecocks managed to escape without a scratch on the first two occasions.

But they weren't as fortunate in the final inning when a walk and sacrifice bunt put the go-ahead run at second base. Konstantine Diamaduros hit a sinking liner into left field that freshman TJ Costen dove for in an attempt to make a shoestring grab.

The ball deflected off his glove and bounced behind him, allowing the Wofford runner on second to cross the plate with the game-winning run.

"You put that leadoff guy on, you're asking for trouble most of the time," Tanner said. "That was one of the tough parts of the night for us. We were battling and they were battling. We gave some free passes and they didn't. It came down to a big hit."

In the bottom of the 11th, late-inning defensive replacement Chase Vergason walked and Connor Bright sacrificed him to second.

However, pinch-hitter Michael Roth fouled out to first for the second out and pinch-hitter Grayson Greiner bounced out to second base to end USC's second extra-inning contest of the season, sending most of the few hundred remaining fans home unhappy.

"We're trying to figure out what's going on. Obviously, we're in a little bit of a rut," said Roth, USC's scheduled starting pitcher tonight. "We're trying to dig ourselves out of it. We just have to be a little bit tougher. Hopefully, we can do that this weekend. But right now we're not executing enough or doing the right things. It's tough on the coaches and tough on us right now. It's not just one area and I don't think there's one answer."

USC held a 3-0 lead in the sixth when Wofford's Mac Doyle launched the first of two homers over the left-fence fence to pull the Terriers to within a run.

"We got some runs early and pitched pretty well, but Doyle kept them where they needed to be," Tanner said.

After the Gamecocks got one of those runs back in the bottom half of the sixth on a two-out RBI single by Dante Rosenberg, Wofford tied the score at 4-4 in the top of the eight on Doyle's second homer of the night, a two-run clout off USC reliever Hunter Privette.

USC was held hitless (and scoreless) over the final 3 2-3 innings by winning pitcher Eric Eck, who fanned six of the 12 Gamecock batters he faced.

The Gamecocks totaled just two hits and struck out 10 times in the final six innings. Six of their eight hits came off Wofford starter Mason Bradley.

"We swung at some pitches that we would want to take back now," Evan Marzilli said. "They came out and did their jobs. They did a very good job tonight. We couldn't capitalize."

USC jumped to the 3-0 lead on a sacrifice fly by Joey Pankake in the third and a two-run homer by Christian Walker two innings later. The long ball, which landed in the Wofford bullpen, was his second of the season and increased his team-leading RBI total to 21 heading into the second conference series of the season.

"Our mindset is to get back on a winning streak," Marzilli said. "It's been a tough stretch here, but there is no reason we can't come out tomorrow and play our butts off. That's what we're looking forward to doing.

"It's going to be a big series. Obviously, they're a very good team and we have a very good team, too. It's going to be a battle for the whole weekend. All we can do is show up and be ready to go (Thursday). It's going to be a lot of fun."

Box score


* After watching five USC relievers combine to issue seven walks over the final six innings, Tanner would not rule out moving starter Matt Price back to the bullpen if that unit continued to struggle.

* USC starter Adam Westmoreland lasted into the sixth inning before being lifted with a 2-0 count on the ensuing batter after Doyle's first homer. The left-hander allowed five hits and two runs with two strikeouts and two walks in five innings. He threw 85 pitches.

* USC suffered its third straight one-run loss, dropping it to 6-4 in that category in 2012. The Gamecocks had three one-run losses in 2011 (13-3 overall) en route to a second straight national title.

* Freshman Evan Beal hurled two innings and threw 44 pitches while facing 11 Wofford batters on Wednesday. Tanner ruled him out of today's series-opener against Florida, and said Friday was a "possibility."

* USC women's basketball coach Dawn Staley threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The Gamecocks face Stanford at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday in a Sweet 16 matchup.

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D. McCallum

South Carolina NEWS


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