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March 6, 2013

Gamecocks really on the Ball (State)

VIDEO: Chad Holbrook, Max Schrock

20130306-Baseballpostgame-CW from GamecockCentral.com on Vimeo.

Curt Britt's first pitch of his first career start for South Carolina didn't go according to plan.

However, the offering, deposited over the right field wall for a solo homer by Blake Beemer, marked one of the few times fortune failed to smile on the Gamecocks in a 14-4 victory over Ball State in front of several hundred hearty folks on a cold and blustery afternoon at Carolina Stadium.

USC improved to 10-2 and hosts Rider in a three-game series starting at 7 p.m. on Friday.

"It's good to get the 10th win," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "But there is certainly a lot we have to improve on and work on, but all in all, it was a good day."

The biggest news of the day again occurred on the injury front, though.

Less than 24 hours after left-hander Jordan Montgomery was sidelined for at least two weeks with a left arm injury, USC sophomore outfielder Tanner English "tweaked his shoulder" catching a fly ball and throwing home on a sacrifice fly in the top of the third inning. He was pulled from the contest.

His status for the Rider series is not known. Holbrook said the injury would be assessed on Wednesday night.

"It's a little bit of a concern," Holbrook said. "His shoulder has been bothering him. It's been sore. He tweaked it. If he tore anything in there, outfielders can usually play with those type of things. We'll just have to send Joey Pankake out there to get the ball from him and let him throw it instead of Tanner. It's a concern."

In addition, Connor Bright fouled a pitch off his foot last week against Clemson and "it's black and blue and about the size of a softball," Holbrook said.

Bright started Tuesday's game in right field, but was pulled after two at-bats. He was initially inserted into Wednesday's lineup, but was scratched in favor of TJ Costen. He should be fine for the weekend, Holbrook said.

Max Schrock collected a team-high three hits, while Joey Pankake (three-run homer) and Grayson Greiner (two-run double) had two hits and three RBIs apiece to highlight USC's 14-hit attack. Six Ball State pitchers walked 10 Gamecock batters, as well.

"Joey was impressive in BP today," Holbrook said. "Finally, now that he's healthy, he was able to swing the bat the way he's capable of swinging it. He's been nursing a little finger injury and the groin issue last week at Clemson. He's swinging the bat the way I know Joey Pankake can swing it.

"Greiner was terrific both behind the plate and offensively. He could easily have been five-for-five. He hit some balls right on the nose."

Nine different USC players had at least one hit, including Sean Sullivan, whose two-run single was part of a six-run uprising by USC in the bottom of the eighth, and freshman George Iskenderian, who recorded his first career hit and RBI.

Iskenderian, an infielder from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., served as the designated hitter and went 2-for-5 with two runs scored.

"George swings the bat like a DH should swing the bat," Holbrook said. "He's going to DH some. George is an athletic kid. He has bat speed and strength. He hit one to right field today that the wind knocked down. And when he's not swinging it well, he's a very good runner. You can put him in motion and hit and run him. He has a bright future.

"We're going to give him some opportunities as we go forward. We're waiting for somebody to take that DH position by the horns. George made a statement today."

Sullivan subbed for the injured English in the lineup.

Fifth-year senior Patrick Sullivan replaced the struggling Britt (3.1 innings, four hits, two runs) on the mound in the fourth inning when USC led 6-2, and was credited with his first victory of the season and the third of his career.

"Curt was much better in his last outing than he was tonight," Holbrook said. "I don't know if it was nerves or anxiousness because it was his first start, but he is much better than he showed today. I was expecting more out of Curt today from a stuff standpoint. But it was a tough day to pitch. He is important to us, so we're going to have to get him back out there."

Sullivan fanned five Ball State batters in 3.2 innings, allowing one run on five hits with two walks.

"He was very solid. That's a good line for him," Holbrook said. "He threw strikes. You feel comfortable with him out there because he's a veteran, he's older and he's mature. He's not going to get rattled with any situation."

Defensively, USC played errorless baseball for the fourth time in the last five games - and the seventh time overall - and now have just nine miscues in 12 games.

"The thing that jumps out at me is we played a clean game defensively with no errors," Holbrook said.

After Ball State took the early 1-0 lead on the leadoff homer, USC responded with a single run in the bottom of the first (three walks followed by Schrock's RBI single), three in the second (Pankake's homer) and two more in the third on a sacrifice fly by Graham Saiko and a run-scoring single by Chase Vergason.

Schrock was among five USC players to score two runs on the afternoon.

Ball State loaded the bases with one out in the top of the sixth, bringing the tying run to the plate, but Pankake dove to his left to make a diving stab of a sinking liner. He leaped to his feet and flipped to Schrock to complete the inning-ending play.

The Cardinals closed the gap to 7-4 in the top of the eighth after Adam Westmoreland set down the first two BSU hitters. But a double, single, wild pitch and walk scored a run and brought the tying run to the plate.

The situation also brought in closer Tyler Webb from the bullpen, and the tall left-hander fanned the only batter he faced on three pitches to keep the lead at three runs.

USC erupted for six runs in the bottom of the sixth, sending the few remaining fans left in the stands home happy with another win.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Schrock had three hits and reached base five times for USC.

KEY MOMENT: Pankake's opposite-field three-run blast in the bottom of the second gave USC a 4-1 lead and the Gamecocks never trailed again.

TURNING POINT: Minutes after Ball State had taken its only lead in the brief two-game series, Cardinals starter Clay Manering walked three straight USC batters to fill the bases. Schrock's single scored the only run of the inning, but in a contest featuring 26 hits, 14 walks, 21 stranded runners and 11 pitchers, Manering's control issues set an unwelcome early tone.

Box score

BSU 1st - Beemer homered to right, Spaulding struck out, Godfrey singled to left, Spaulding caught stealing (2-4), Campbell walked, Weir flied to left. ONE RUN, TWO HITS (BSU 1-0).

USC 1st - Saiko grounded to second, Vergason walked, Pankake walked, Dantzler walked, Schrock singled to center (RBI), Greiner lined to third, Iskenderian grounded into fielder's choice. ONE RUN, ONE HIT (TIED 1-1).

USC 2nd - Costen struck out, English struck out, Saiko singled to right, Saiko stole second and advanced to third on throwing error (E2), Vergason walked, Pankake homered to right (3 RBI), Dantzler walked, Schrock singled to right, Greiner flied to center. THREE RUNS, THREE HITS (USC 4-1).

BSU 3rd - DeVarie doubled to right, Beemer flied to right (DeVarie moved to 3B), Spaulding hit sacrifice fly to center (RBI), Godfrey flied to right. ONE RUN, ONE HIT (USC 4-2).

USC 3rd - Iskenderian singled to right, Costen walked, Sullivan (PH) hit by pitch, Saiko hit sacrifice fly to left (RBI), (Moeller for Manering), Vergason singled to left-center (RBI), Pankake singled to left, Dantzler fouled to second. TWO RUNS, THREE HITS (USC 6-2).

USC 6th - Dantzler popped to third, Schrock walked, Schrock stole second, Schrock stole third, Greiner singled to right (RBI), Iskenderian flied to right, Costen struck out. ONE RUN, ONE HIT (USC 7-2).

BSU 7th - Schlotter (PH) struck out, DeVarie walked, Beemer singled to left, Spaulding flied to right, Godfrey singled to right (RBI), Campbell grounded to first. ONE RUN, TWO HITS (USC 7-3).

BSU 8th - Weir grounded to third, Wellman lined to center, Winkle doubled to left, Schlotter singled to left (RBI), Schlotter advanced to second on wild pitch, DeVarie walked, (Webb for Westmoreland), Beemer struckout. ONE RUN, TWO HITS (USC 7-4).

USC 8th - Pankake walked, Dantzler doubled to right, Schrock singled to right (RBI), Schrock stole second, Greiner doubled to left (2 RBI), Iskenderian singled to center (RBI), Costen reached on throwing error (E1), Sullivan doubled to left (2 RBI), Saiko grounded to second, Vergason fouled out to left, Pankake hit by pitch, Sullivan scored on wild pitch, Dantzler walked, Schrock grounded to first. SEVEN RUNS, FIVE HITS (USC 14-4).

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