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April 21, 2013

Diamond Extra: Wynkoop dazzles



Freshman lefthander Jack Wynkoop scattered nine Kentucky hits during his career-long eight-inning stint on Sunday.

Literally.

The Wildcats had multiple hits in just one inning - consecutive two-out singles in the top of the eighth proved harmless when a groundout to first ended the scoring threat.

Thus, Kentucky collected one hit in seven of the eight innings facing Wynkoop, but needed help from a fielding error by South Carolina first baseman L.B. Dantzler to score its lone run in the top of the fourth.

Wynkoop, who recorded the first SEC victory of his career, improved to 5-2 with a 3.12 ERA in 40.1 innings pitched during his debut season in major college baseball. He's fanned 26 and walked only seven, a strikeout-to-walk ratio approaching 4-to-1.

"He had a good tempo going, he worked fast, he threw strikes and he worked ahead in the count," USC head coach Chad Holbrook said on Sunday following completion of the sweep. "And he's tough to run on with his move. He used his defense. He gets himself into trouble, like all pitchers, when he's 2-0 or 3-1 all night. He doesn't have incredible stuff. He's a lot like some of our other lefties. He relies on pitchability, pitching ahead in the count and throwing any pitch at any count. That makes it difficult on hitters when he can do that when he's ahead in the count. His poise was terrific, too."

Did Wynkoop cement his role as USC's Sunday starter behind Nolan Belcher and Jordan Montgomery? It would give USC three left-handed starters on the weekend.

"It definitely gives you confidence," Wynkoop said Sunday following his third SEC start of the season. "It feels good to get SEC hitters out. That's why I came here. I'm glad I'm starting to be able to do that."

Pitching efficiently, Wynkoop faced more than four batters in just two of his eight innings. Zero walks minimized the number of base runners for the Wildcats. In fact, Kentucky had multiple runners on base just once against Wynkoop, the top of the eighth.

"Wynkoop was special," Holbrook said. "He threw strikes. No walks. It was a good day to pitch because of the wind. I felt good about him being out there because he typically throws strikes and the ball wasn't carrying much today. That being said, he would have been good if the wind was blowing out."

Fifteen of the 24 outs recorded by Wynkoop came on balls hit to infielders (11), strikeout (3) or caught stealing (1). So, for the most part, he forced Kentucky batters to hit the ball into the ground or swing and miss. Nine putouts were made by outfielders, but most of the catches were routine.

"He had a lot of ground balls or lazy fly balls," Holbrook said. "He pitched with poise. It wasn't a typical freshman out there today. That was good to see and good for our team going forward."

Sunday's outing exceeded his previous season high by two innings. The only time he has hurled as many as six innings in 2013 was March 6 against Ball State. His last five appearances lasted three innings or shorter.

"Between Coach (Jerry) Meyers and our strength staff, they had everything planned out," Wynkoop said. "There's been running and lifting and doing the same stuff every week. When you're playing in the SEC, you don't really know what your role is going to be. We've had TBA as the Sunday starter for the past couple of weekends, so we have to be ready for anything."

Wynkoop threw 100 pitches, 76 for strikes, in his first start since March 30 against Texas A&M when he allowed four hits and two runs in three innings. The last four appearances by the Virginia Beach, Va., native have been in relief, most recently a three-inning stretch at Florida on April 13.

"I'm more used to starting," Wynkoop said. "I've been a starter up until I came here. But I also liked coming out of the bullpen against Florida. I'm used to both now. I can do either, whatever the team needs. Today, I was able to lengthen it out a little bit. It should give me some confidence coming into the rest of the year."

IRONMAN GREINER: The potentially season-ending injury to backup catcher Dante Rosenberg forced sophomore Grayson Greiner to play all 29 innings (Saturday's doubleheader nightcap lasted 11 innings) of the weekend series without a break. It will likely remain that way for the rest of the season, especially against conference opponents.

Greiner batted .250 (3-for-12) in the three wins over Kentucky, but his greatest contributions from this point will be defensively and his handling of the Gamecock pitching staff.

"The kid caught 29 innings in almost 24 hours," Holbrook marveled. "His defensive play was incredible. That's a special kid back there."

FIVE SWEEPS IN ROW: Regardless of the sport, the SEC is notorious for the daily and weekly battles that teams must engage in order to survive. Interestingly, USC's last five conference series have produced sweeps - three in favor of the Gamecocks (Texas A&M, Tennessee and Kentucky) and two for the opponents (Arkansas, Florida).

"It's an interesting stat," LB Dantzler said on Sunday. "I realized that after the game and I was talking with Chase (Vergason) about it. I wouldn't say that's anything about our team. That's just kind of the way the ball bounces for us. As far as winning this game, it was huge. There's a big difference between being 10-8 or 11-7. That's big heading to LSU this weekend."

USC's stretch of five straight sweeps has surprised Holbrook. Last year, USC was involved in four sweeps out of 10 conference series. So far this season, it's five sweeps in six SEC series.

"I wouldn't have thought that would happen," Holbrook said. "You never count on a sweep in this league because the teams are so evenly matched. It's just the way it's going right now. As euphoric as I am that we swept a really good team, it's gut-wrenching to get swept."

USC stands at 11-7 in conference play, five games behind division leader Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks and Commodores square off May 3-5 at Carolina Stadium in what could boil down to a do-or-die attempt by USC to catch the front-runners.

"It's not necessarily acceptable in my holes to get swept, but Florida played their rear ends off against us last week," Holbrook said. "We had our chances to win a couple of games down there, and had a couple of guys out, but we just couldn't get it done. That happens in this league.

"It's not just South Carolina. You look around the league, you just have to try to keep an even keel in this league. Don't get too high when things are going well and don't get too low when you get your tail kicked because you're going to get your tail kicked. That's the nature of this league. You just have to pick yourself up off the mat. We have. Not only after the Florida series, but the Arkansas series as well. That shows me a little something about the makeup of our team."

NOTES:

* USC returns to action Tuesday at 6 p.m. when it faces Gardner-Webb at Keeter Stadium in Shelby, N.C., Holbrook's hometown. Holbrook mentioned Joel Seddon and Evan Beal as possible starters for the non-conference game.

* USC utilized the same starting lineup in all three games this weekend, a sign the Gamecocks are returning to health.

* Dantzler on his towering 410-foot, two-run home run over the center field wall in the bottom of the fourth: "I was looking for a fastball and he threw me a cutter or a little slider. It was a little bit up. I knew I hit it well, but that was the first home run I've hit out to center field in my career here. It's hard to tell when you get one out there."

* USC has not dropped a home series to Kentucky since 1999. In the last seven series in Columbia between the two teams, USC is 19-2 against the Wildcats with sweeps in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2011 and 2013.

* Kentucky had won 64 consecutive games when leading after the seventh inning prior to the second game of Saturday's doubleheader when USC rallied from a 6-5 deficit by tying the game in the bottom of the eighth before prevailing three innings later on Brison Celek's walk-off RBI single.

SEC SCORES (Sunday):
South Carolina 3, Kentucky 1
Vanderbilt 5, Georgia 1
Missouri 8, Florida 2
Ole Miss 4, Tennessee 3
Arkansas 2, Texas A&M 1
Alabama 4, LSU 3 (10 Inn.)

SEC East Standings: Vanderbilt 16-2, South Carolina 11-7, Florida 10-8, Kentucky 7-11, Tennessee 5-13, Missouri 5-13, Georgia 4-14.



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