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February 20, 2013

Encouraging start for Westmoreland

The last three seasons haven't been kind to Adam Westmoreland, once the crown jewel of a kingly signing class five years ago.

Since putting together a 4-2 record in a tantalizing freshman campaign in 2009 - a showing quickly succeeded by deflating Tommy John surgery that required him to sit out the 2010 season - Westmoreland has struggled to regain the form he showed early in his career.

Coming into this season, the left-handed Westmoreland was 3-2 with 62 hits and 30 runs allowed in 56 1-3 innings pitched over 18 total appearances in 2011-12.

Not the kind of numbers USC expected from Westmoreland, recipient of the 2008 Mr. Baseball award in South Carolina, when he signed with the Gamecocks out of Brookland-Cayce High School.

However, Westmoreland's stint in last weekend's hard-fought series win over Liberty may have set the tone for a bounce-back final college season from the 6-foot-5, 270-pound redshirt senior.

He had a career record of 7-4 with an ERA of 4.46 in 103 innings with 102 hits, 86 strikeouts and 54 walks entering the season.

"I won't make excuses for him, but there's a reason he has been up and down," USC pitching coach Jerry Meyers recently said. "It was injury-related. Now he's healthy and strong, and in better shape than he was before. Things aren't the same when they were carefree and easy and just kind of happened for him. He's battled through that and given us some quality innings along the way. He has starts under his belt against good teams."

In the lid-lifter of Sunday's doubleheader, Westmoreland took the mound with one out in the top of the seventh amidst Liberty's six-run uprising.

He induced the first Flames batter to stroke a potential inning-ending slow roller towards shortstop, but a charging Joey Pankake saw the ball slip under his glove for an error, one of two by the Gamecocks during the inning.

"Adam made a great pitch to get us out of the inning and keep it close, but Joey let the ball go under his glove," coach Chad Holbrook said.

After surrendering a bases-clearing double and run-scoring single to the second and third batters he faced, Westmoreland settled down, retiring the final seven Liberty batters.

He was rewarded when USC fought back with eight runs in the eighth and ninth innings to pull out an improbable 8-7 victory, handing Westmoreland his first victory since April 4, 2012, when he threw 5 1-3 innings against College of Charleston.

"He enabled us and kept them at bay," Holbrook said. "It allowed us to come back and win that game. His performance was one of the encouraging things we took away from the weekend from our pitchers."

Westmoreland filled up the zone (19 of his 30 pitches were strikes) and didn't walk any of the 10 batters he faced while striking out two.

"Adam was terrific," Holbrook said. "I was glad to see him (do well). I think it's a boost for his confidence. That's really all he needs. His talent and ability are there. He just needs opportunities. That was certainly encouraging to see because it was coming on the heels of a couple of impressive preseason scrimmages he had before he opened the season.

"I'm very happy for Adam Westmoreland. He's going to get opportunities as we go forward."

By locking down the Liberty offense in the eighth and ninth innings (none of the six batters he faced hit the ball out of the infield - three ground-outs, a pop-up and two strikeouts), Westmoreland opened the door for USC to mount an unlikely rally, and when Liberty's bullpen struggled to throw strikes, the Gamecocks jumped and pulled out the win.

"Adam is a good kid and he's been here a long time," Holbrook said. "He was a very highly recruited player out of Brookland-Cayce. He deserves some good things to happen to him. I told him how important I thought his outing was (Sunday)."

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