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March 31, 2012

USC-Vanderbilt Diamond Extra



NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Christian Walker seemed confused.

Deservedly.

"I'd have liked for it to come a little bit earlier, but at the same time, I'm not going to complain about it," Walker said. "I've been scuffling a bit the last couple of weeks, but finally everything's coming together right now."

Incredibly, Walker had gone through two full seasons and nearly half of a third without a multi-home run game before Friday. He belted a solo shot off the top rail of the left-center bleachers in the first inning, and lifted a skyscraping two-run long ball off the top of the "Green Monster" in left of Charles Hawkins Field in the seventh.

Walker has 24 career homers, including two of the biggest in South Carolina history. He's hit a game-winning shot in the eighth inning of each Super Regional Game 2 the Gamecocks have played in over the past two years.

But until Friday, he'd never hit two or more out in one game. The first was also his 200th hit at USC, a mark that he and only 24 others have reached.

"I think I did it in high school, maybe one time," Walker said. "I'm seeing the ball well and everything's working out."

MAGNUM: Redshirt sophomore Brison Celek broke the game open with his third-inning two-run double, a ball that he turned on and knocked a dent in the Green Monster. It was just the fourth and fifth career RBIs for the big bopper from Charleston.

"When he got his opportunities, which weren't very many, he had the quality at-bats," coach Ray Tanner said. "We felt like we weren't getting them up and down. He's been in the program for a while, he's had his opportunities, he just keeps grinding it. Now he's giving Walker a little bit of protection. You have to think about it a little bit now."

Celek started at designated hitter on Opening Day 2010, but only played in eight games after that. He voluntarily redshirted in 2011 when it became apparent that he wasn't going to get many reps.

He earned another look after Friday.

MATTY ICE: If the decision has to go weekend-to-weekend, so be it.

Tanner is willing if Matt Price is.

"I'm staying in the pen (this weekend)," Price said after picking up his first save of the year with three innings of hitless relief. "Just be ready to go. Need to be called, try to get ready for tomorrow, see if I can get one in, get six outs, we'll see what happens."

Tanner left Saturday's probable starting pitcher as a "TBA" before the series, knowing that Price might be needed. He was going to let Friday determine it - if Price was required to shut it down, he would be used. If not, he could start on Saturday.

Trying to make an 8-3 lead last and with the tying run on deck, Roth had nobody out and the bases loaded. Despite Tyler Webb having more of a warm-up, Tanner signaled for Price - and watched him do his thing one more time.

Price struck out his first two batters and got a fly ball to center to end the threat. He struck out three more for the duration. In his last 7 1-3 innings against Vanderbilt dating to last year, Price has walked one and struck out 16.

The save was the 31st of his career, which broke a tie for first with Rob Mosser (1990-93).

AVOIDED: USC avoided matching its worst SEC start in history, which was 1-9 in 1992. If the Gamecocks win one more this weekend, they'll avoid matching the only time they dropped three straight series to open the SEC season, also set in 1992.

REPEAT: Walker's two homers on Friday was the second time USC had had one player hit two out in one game this year. Grayson Greiner did it against Clemson.

SATURDAY: Evan Beal will make his first career start against Vanderbilt at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Beal is 1-2 with a 3.65 ERA in 12 1-3 innings this season.

TRAVELING MEN: USC had the usual 27 names on its travel roster. The players who didn't travel were: Patrick Harrington, Seth Constable, Tanner Lovick, Vince Fiori, Ethan Carter, Drake Thomason and Adam Westmoreland.

Harrington (arm) and Constable (leg) are injured, although Harrington is beginning to throw. Lovick and Fiori have made minimal contributions thus far. Westmoreland pitched in Tuesday's win at The Citadel, meaning he probably wouldn't have thrown this weekend and is most likely being saved for Wednesday's game at College of Charleston. Thomason has only pitched one inning this year and Carter remains suspended after his arrest three weeks ago.

SEC STANDINGS
Team SEC Overall
SEC East
Florida 5-2 23-3
Kentucky 5-1 25-1
Georgia 3-3 17-9
Tennessee 3-4 16-10
South Carolina 2-5 19-7
Vanderbilt 2-5 10-16
SEC West
Arkansas 5-2 22-4
Auburn 4-3 15-11
LSU 4-3 20-6
Ole Miss 4-3 19-7
Mississippi State 3-4 18-9
Alabama 1-6 9-17
Friday's games
Tennessee 10, Alabama 8
LSU 10, Arkansas 6
Mississippi State 5, Auburn 3
Ole Miss 3, Florida 0
Kentucky at Georgia, ppd.
South Carolina 8, Vanderbilt 3

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