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February 22, 2014

Another shutout keeps USC unbeaten



From a pitching perspective, Chad Holbrook could not have drawn things up any better on the locker room chalkboard.

Extending South Carolina's scoreless streak to 42 innings, sophomore lefthander Jack Wynkoop and three relievers combined for USC's fourth straight shutout, a crisply played 2-0 whitewashing of Eastern Kentucky Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 8,242 fans at Carolina Stadium.

USC has registered four straight shutouts for the first time since April 17-20, 1972.

"Obviously, the way our (four pitchers) threw the ball was the story," Holbrook said. "You have to win games like this to have a great year, when you don't necessarily swing the bats or play defense the way you want. We found a way to win. I couldn't be happier."

Wynkoop improved his career record to 9-3 and lowered his career ERA to 2.83 by limiting the Colonels to three hits and striking out a career high 10 batters in 7.1 innings.

"Today was definitely a good day," Wynkoop said. "Everything felt good. Coach (Jerry) Meyers called a great game and Grayson (Greiner) did a great job along with the rest of the defense. It felt good."

Wynkoop retired 22 of the 27 batters he faced, walking just one, in his 13th career start. So far this season, he has allowed just nine hits and two runs with 16 strikeouts in 12.1 innings pitched.

Facing more than four EKU batters only once, the precise Wynkoop statistically exceeded his exceptional performance at LSU a season ago when he blanked the Tigers on five hits in seven innings without walking a batter.

"That was the best I've seen Jack Wynkoop throw since he's been here," Holbrook said after USC improved to 6-0 on the season. "We all know he threw a gem last year at LSU. Today, he had some pop on his fastball and a good changeup. He threw all his pitches where he wanted to pretty much the entire day. It was good to see."

The Gamecock bullpen was again dominant as Cody Mincey and Vince Fiori each set down the only batters they faced in the eighth inning on a combined four pitches, setting the table for junior closer Joel Seddon in the ninth.

Seddon recorded the first out on a grounder to short before fanning the final two EKU hitters, putting the finishing touches on his 10-pitch outing that produced the first save of the season by a Gamecock reliever and his first in a USC uniform.

The four USC pitches combined to throw 79 strikes among their 104 pitches, a remarkable strike percentage of 76 percent and a key reason the fast-moving game took just two hours to play.

USC pitchers have struck out 60 batters and walked 13 in 54 innings this season. The last time an opponent scored a run was Bucknell a week ago in the second game of year.

After being frustrated for 5.1 innings, the Gamecocks finally solved Eastern Kentucky starter Tanner Perkins in the bottom of the sixth by scoring the lone two runs of the well-pitched contest.

With one out, Connor Bright lined a double into the left field corner and Greiner followed with his second homer of the season, a two-run shot into the lower left-field stands that snapped a scoreless tie.

Greiner credited advice from Holbrook for the scoring outburst.

"His fastball was a little more sneaky than we had originally thought," Greiner said. "He was attacking us inside and getting the ball inside on our hands. Right before that inning, Coach Holbrook called all the hitters over and said we had two options. We could either keep trying to use the other side of the field and stay inside of the ball or get on top of the plate and try to yank one down the line because he was attacking us inside.

"I saw Connor attack on the first pitch and yank the ball down into the corner. It worked for him, so I figured I would try the same thing. I got on top of the plate and tried to attack a fastball. I got it up in the air and it happened to carry out. Credit Coach Holbrook for giving us that tip."

Singles by Elliott Caldwell and pinch-hitter Weber Pike (first career hit) put two more runners on base in the bottom of the sixth, but the Gamecocks couldn't add a third run to the inning's tally.

The coaching wheels turned rapidly in the USC dugout in the top of the eighth. After an error by Mooney and walk put two EKU runners on base, pitching coach Jerry Meyers opted to replace Wynkoop with reliever Mincey, who promptly retired the only batter he faced on a foul fly to Bright.

In from the bullpen came Fiori, a lefthander, and he induced an inning-ending grounder on his first pitch to Max Schrock at second, leaving the two-run cushion intact.

Both teams had chances to score in the third inning but came away empty-handed. Eastern Kentucky got one-out singles from their No. 8 and 9 hitters off Wynkoop, but the sophomore lefthander slammed the door with a fly to left and popup to short.

The Gamecocks filled the bases in the bottom half of the inning when designated hitter Brison Celek and Schrock sandwiched singles around a hit batsman on Marcus Mooney. However, Tanner English's soft bounce to third produced an easy 5-2 forceout at home and Joey Pankake popped to short.

Wynkoop's throwing error put a EKU runner into scoring position with one out in the top of the sixth, but a groundout and strikeout (with the runner at third) preserved the shutout.

USC collected nine hits, four in the decisive sixth inning. Greiner, Caldwell and Celek each had two hits for USC.

"We got the big swing from Grayson and our pitchers made that hold up," Holbrook said. "They've been the story of our last few games. They've been incredible and thrown the ball very well. I can't remember (four straight shutouts). It's a rare feat, for sure."

HOW THE RUNS SCORED:

USC 6th - Martin flied to center, Bright doubled to left, Greiner homered to left (2 RBI), Caldwell singled, Pike singled, Mooney popped to second, Schrock fouled out to third. TWO RUNS, FOUR HITS (USC 2-0).

Box score

UP NEXT: South Carolina hosts Eastern Kentucky on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in the finale of the three-game series.

DM


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