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February 21, 2014

Gamecocks blank Eastern Kentucky

Not since 1972 has a University of South Carolina baseball team strung together back-to-back-to-back shutouts, but that's precisely what the No. 5 Gamecocks did Friday with a 4-0 victory over Eastern Kentucky in the opening game of a three-game weekend series at Carolina Stadium.

Leading the charge from the mound was No. 1 starter Jordan Montgomery (W, 2-0), who hurled seven scoreless innings to run his own personal scoreless streak to 33.2 innings (36 without an earned run) dating back to May 23, 2013, in the SEC Tournament against Vanderbilt.

As a team, the Gamecocks have their own 33-inning scoreless streak dating back to the third inning of the second game of the year. Eight different pitchers have combined for the streak, with Montgomery handing the lead over in the eighth and ninth innings to Cody Mincey and Joel Seddon, respectively.

"We're pleased with the win," said Chad Holbrook, whose team improved to 5-0 on the season. "I thought that Jordan was terrific and I thought Cody and Joel were obviously very good in their one-inning stints as well.

"We pride ourselves on pitching and playing defense, and we did that today."

Montgomery was in command nearly the entire day, allowing five hits and striking out four while walking two. His only trouble came with a leadoff double in the sixth from EKU's Doug Teegarden who then moved to third on a grounder to shortstop. A walk to designated hitter Bryan Soloman put runners at the corner with one out, but the walk became a blessing in disguise when shortstop Luke Wurzelbacher hit into a tailor-made 5-4-3 double play to end the Colonel's last threat.

"He's an unflappable kid, as we all know," Holbrook said. "It seems like when he gets challenged and people get out there, he's at his best. That was certainly the case today."

Offensively, the Gamecocks had only solo home runs from Kyle Martin and Max Schrock to show for five innings of work until a fielder's choice RBI from Connor Bright and RBI single from Brison Celek gave USC a modicum of breathing room in the sixth. The Gamecocks managed just seven hits off EKU starter Brent Cobb and none off reliever Caleb Johnson, who threw the final 2.1 innings of the game for the Colonels, who fell to 1-4.

"I was disappointed in the way we played offensively," Holbrook said. " Our plate approach wasn't what we work on on a daily basis."

"You've got to give credit to their pitcher. Brent Cobb is a senior and he can change speeds and pitches in and out. I'm not displeased with the production, I'm displeased with our approach. Hopefully we can get better in that department."

Kyle Martin, who led USC in hitting with a .692 average coming into Friday's game, got the Gamecocks started offensively with a leadoff home run to right to open the second inning. Martin has now hit safely in every game this season along with Connor Bright. Max Schrock followed suit with a one-out solo home run in the third. It was the second home run of the year for both Martin and Schrock.

"(Cobb) was very good," Schrock said. "I was just trying to see something up and he gave me something up, I was aggressive on the pitch and put a good swing on it."

For Montgomery, his scoreless inning streak was something he had forgotten about over the offseason.

"I forgot about it recently until my last outing, someone reminded me of it," Montgomery said. "Of course I'm going up there to throw up zeroes every inning.

"Trying to keep that streak alive is a little more incentive to throw up zeroes, but I'm just trying to go out there to throw up zeroes. Every game I try to control the plate. That's something that I guess I'm kind of known for, throwing in and out, trying to keep batters off balance a little bit and throw the changeup every now and then just to let them know it's there.

"I just try to keep my rhythm, getting my arm up and do what I've been doing since I was 15 throwing the baseball - I just tried to pound the zone, work the plate and keep the offspeed in there and throw strikes."

Holbrook said what makes Motgomery so good is how many things he can do well.

"He has some deception, which mans he's very difficult to pick up," Holbrook said. "It's on you pretty quick. It might only show 88 on the radar, but it's a little faster than that when it comes to what the hitter feels.

"He also has some really good offspeed pitches. On top of that he has great command. You can't look for one side of the plate because he throws in and out. Then he's got his changeup going and he's got his cutter that he can throw in to righties that's a good pitch against lefties, too. He can drop a curveball in there. It's a lot for a college hitter to think about, especially when he throws them all for strikes.

"We feel very, very good when he's on the mound."

Box score

UP NEXT: South Carolina hosts Eastern Kentucky for a tomorrow afternoon at 4.



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