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April 1, 2012

USC-Vanderbilt Diamond Extra



NASHVILLE, Tenn. - It was a lot easier to laugh about it after Christian Walker's two-run home run cleared the wall and Jordan Montgomery struck out John Norwood to end it.

April Fool's Day or not, South Carolina's defense during Sunday's 6-4 series-clinching win over Vanderbilt was a joke.

USC coughed up five errors between the fifth and eighth innings on Sunday. More than coincidentally, the Commodores (11-17, 3-6 SEC) used that momentum to tie the game after USC had opened a 4-0 lead.

It began in the fifth, when back-to-back singles got the bullpen warming and began to chase starter Colby Holmes. The first hit was from Spencer Navin, who lined it to left field. Tanner English quickly picked it up and fired it to the infield, and that's where the trouble began.

Shortstop Joey Pankake was the cutoff man, and he purposely let the ball go by him, thinking that Navin would try for an extra base and then Erik Payne, backing up the play, could gun him out. The only problem was, Payne wasn't there.

Navin took second and English was charged with an error on the throw. He eventually scored Vanderbilt's first run on Riley Reynolds' sacrifice fly.

Holmes gave way to Tyler Webb, who inherited a two-out, two-on situation. One strike from ending the inning, Tony Kemp golfed a pitch into right field that Adam Matthews charged. He went for the out at second, but the throw skipped past Pankake and on, giving Kemp a free base as the score became 4-3.

In the sixth, with Matt Price on the mound, Mike Yastrzemski reached on a leadoff single. He stole second but Victor Conde bounced into a tailor-made double play.

Pankake shoveled to Payne for one, but Payne's relay to first was low. Yastrzemski alertly never stopped running and came around third; by the time Walker realized that he was running, Yastrzemski was halfway home.

Walker fired wildly to the plate as Yastrzemski slid safely in with the game-tying tally. The throw bounded away to give Conde third base, after he would have been out at first with a quicker throw from Payne.

The seventh began with the hope that the holes had healed themselves, but when Kemp stole second, Dante Rosenberg threw low to second and the ball skipped past Pankake. Evan Marzilli also bobbled the ball while backing up the play, giving Kemp third base.

In the eighth, Connor Gregor ripped a pitch at Walker, who saw the ball bounce under his glove, which was on his hip. No runs scored in the inning, and USC settled down for the duration.

Perhaps it was something in the air. Vanderbilt had three errors in the late innings as well.

THE STREAK: On the same day that World Wrestling Entertainment's The Undertaker extended his streak at WrestleMania to 20-0, Marzilli stretched his streak to 28-0. Marvelous Marz's fifth-inning walk was all that was needed to have him reach base for the 28th time of the season - every game of the year.

Marzilli singled in the 13th inning and scored on Walker's homer.

SEEMS TO BE STICKING: After Price saved Friday's game and pitched six innings in relief on Sunday, it's a solid bet that he'll remain in the bullpen for the duration.

Or is it?

Coach Ray Tanner made it clear before Friday's game that Price would be used if he had to be. He had to be, so he was. On Sunday, with Vanderbilt suddenly within a run, Price was needed again.

Price could be a week-to-week decision going forward, always dependent on if he is needed during the Friday game. Tanner didn't move Holmes from the Sunday spot but may have to make a move if someone doesn't show that he can take the Saturday role - Forrest Koumas and Evan Beal didn't lock it down during their tries and Price could always return if he wasn't needed on a Friday, although it would most likely wipe out a Sunday appearance.

Webb will likely stay in the bullpen. Adam Westmoreland and Jordan Montgomery have been the mid-week guys, although Montgomery won Sunday's game in relief. Nolan Belcher has starting experience as well.

USC may truly be living the one-game-at-a-time motto for the season's duration.

PATRIOTIC: Vanderbilt sported its usual Sunday home-game uniforms. The Commodores took the field in blue jerseys with red trim, white pants and red caps with blue brims.

The jerseys featured three vertical white stars on each sleeve and an American flag above the number on the back. The usual gold "V" that adorns Vanderbilt's caps was instead colored like the flag.

WORKED?: Ever since Scott Wingo, AKA Cap'n Crunk, left, USC has been looking for a new pre-game ritual. The Gamecocks have gone through several, and introduced a new one on Sunday.

With his teammates in a circle around him, Belcher got into the middle, posed for a few seconds, then turned a standing backflip. His teammates roared their approval and crowded around him.

Not to be out-done, Vanderbilt's Kemp did the same before the Commodores took the field.

SEC STANDINGS
Team SEC Overall
SEC East
Kentucky 7-2 27-2
Florida 6-3 24-4
Tennessee 5-4 18-10
Georgia 4-5 18-11
South Carolina 3-6 20-8
Vanderbilt 3-6 11-17
SEC West
Auburn 6-3 17-11
LSU 6-3 22-6
Arkansas 5-4 22-6
Ole Miss 5-4 20-8
Mississippi State 3-6 18-11
Alabama 1-8 9-19
Sunday's games
Tennessee 4, Alabama 2
Tennessee 5, Alabama 3 (7)
LSU 3, Arkansas 2 (11)
Auburn 8, Mississippi State 2
Ole Miss 7, Florida 6
Kentucky 11, Georgia 2
South Carolina 6, Vanderbilt 4 (13)

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