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April 17, 2012

Cougars feast on stranded runners



At least it was a Division I team.

Ninth-ranked South Carolina dropped its second straight midweek game on Tuesday in a 4-3 setback to College of Charleston, showcasing the same problems that it had seemed to shed in a weekend sweep of Mississippi State. Despite that, only six days after a head-scratching loss at Division II Francis Marion, the Gamecocks (27-11) had no solution for the free-swinging Cougars.

CofC (26-12) teed off on starter Nolan Belcher (2-2) for three home runs in the first three innings for all the runs it would need. The Gamecocks slipped back into their season-long foible - they got 'em on, sometimes got 'em over, but couldn't get 'em in.

"Yeah, it's frustrating," freshman Tanner English said. "Baseball's a real humbling game. Got to take it and keep working."

The Cougars plunked five batters to tie a USC record. None scored. The Gamecocks only got eight hits but also walked three times. They stranded 13 runners.

Then just when they were about to erase an evening of frustration with one brilliant inning, that also fizzled out. English socked a two-run single in the eighth to make it 4-3, and USC had two runners on with nobody out for the top of the order. With Matt Price warming in the bullpen, the game was as good as over. This was the spot where over the past two years, someone always, always came through.

As has become increasingly obvious, this isn't the past two years.

Joey Pankake was caught looking. Evan Marzilli lined out to left field. Christian Walker, the team's best hitter who has been known to knock a clutch three-run homer or two in his career, grounded weakly to second.

The problems aren't solved. Oh, no, no, no.

"I don't think we were aggressive enough against (Ryan) West," coach Ray Tanner said. "Tonight, he was better than our hitters. Certainly, disappointed with my guys. He was better than we were."

And now there's another problem. Belcher had seemed to be gearing up for a permanent midweek spot and have some innings on the weekend. After getting knocked around by the Cougars - including a two-run shot from Daniel Aldrich, son of former USC basher Charlie Aldrich - the midweek spot may return to Adam Westmoreland or perhaps Evan Beal, who each threw well in relief on Tuesday.

"Felt like I was getting it over. They just kept hitting it," Belcher said. "Whenever I made a mistake, they made me pay for it."

West, three weeks after USC belted him for six hits and two runs in five innings, struck out seven and yielded just three hits and a run. The right-hander plunked four batters, but none came back to haunt him.

USC, as has been its usual, got inconsistent production. Marzilli was 0-for-3. Walker was a horrid 1-for-5 with no RBIs despite coming to the plate with runners on every time. Adam Matthews was 0-for-2 before getting yanked for Brison Celek in the seventh inning. Grayson Greiner, reigning SEC Freshman of the Week, was 0-for-4.

Patrick Sullivan, Westmoreland and Beal (four innings, one hit, one walk, three strikeouts) kept CofC at bay to offer a bright spot, but USC couldn't get enough offense to make it pay off. Cougars coach Monte Lee, a USC assistant for six seasons, celebrated his first win over the Gamecocks in seven tries, when the first six losses were by a combined score of 79-18, including 7-0 on April 4.

"I think that you certainly have to give West a tremendous amount of credit. He just stymied us," Tanner said. "We just didn't get enough runs."

Box score

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