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February 23, 2014

USC sets school records in shutout

At a school with two national championships, four runners-up and 11 trips to Omaha, the 2014 Gamecocks in seven games have accomplished something no other team in school history has: throw five consecutive shutouts.

Running its scoreless streak to a school-record 51 innings, South Carolina (7-0) completed a three-game sweep of Eastern Kentucky with a 6-0 win Sunday afternoon in front of 7,731 fans at Carolina Stadium and remain unbeaten on the year.

"Our pitchers are really the story with the way they're throwing the ball right now," Holbrook said. "We continue to play pretty solid defense behind our pitchers, and that's what we talk about on a daily basis around here - pitch and play 'D,' and you have a chance to win."

"It's special how our pitchers are throwing. I don't really think that the streak, it's not that we don't take pride in it, but it's not something that's really talked about. We just try to talk about the next game, the next pitch, the next inning. We try to be shortsighted, I guess, the way we approach things around here. They're doing an incredible job of that."

"It's been fun to watch them compete. If they can continue that throughout the year, we'll have a chance to win our fair share of games."

Behind the starting pitching of Wil Crowe (W, 2-0) and five relievers, EKU was blanked for the third game in a row and left town without a Colonel crossing home plate in 27 innings.

In his second start Crowe was in command, allowing his first hit of the season in the fourth inning after throwing 9.2 hitless innings to begin his Gamecock career and finishing with four hits allowed in 6.1 innings while striking out five and walking one.

Only once did he face two baserunners in an inning.

"Wil got us off to a good start," Holbrook said. "He pitched very, very well."

"I don't think he had maybe the giddyup today that he had last week. But he can pitch. He's not just a thrower. As you can see, he's pretty polished. He has three to four above-average pitches he can throw about in any count. And he competes.

"For a freshman, sometimes when things start going a little bit haywire, they get a runner on, what I see in our dugout is when he has to bow his neck he does. When he has to make a pitch he does. That's a great trait to have as a competitor, when you're competitive enough and confident enough to throw it. Not many freshman have 'it'. He has 'it'."

Crowe said he felt good on the mound and was actually pleased to allow his first hit.

"I was kind of glad to get it off my back," Crowe said. "I just want to get wins, throw strikes, help the team out.

"(The streak) is awesome. It's great to see everyone going out there to do their part."

The scoreless streak wasn't threatened until late in the game, as the Colonels only had three hits through six innings. That changed in the eighth, when Eastern Kentucky got a runner to third with one out on two singles off freshman reliever Josh Reagan before Cody Mincey came on to strike out the next two batters.

"I just have one job, and that's go in there and throw strikes," Mincey said. "I've been doing that, so I felt pretty confident in myself just going out there and doing what I've been doing."

EKU's best chance came in its last at bat. The Colonels loaded the bases off reliever Vince Fiori to start the top of the ninth on a walk, single and error by shortstop Marcus Mooney on a fielder's choice. Fiori struck out the next batter for the first out before being relieved by Joel Seddon.

Facing a pressure situation with school history on the line, Seddon calmly struck out the first batter and got the next to tap harmlessly to second for the final out and historic shutout win.

"When our opponents have gotten runners in scoring position, they've really done a good job of bowing their necks and competing and throwing some of their best pitches," Holbrook said. "They've really pitched their tails off, especially with runners in scoring position."

Offensively, every Gamecock starter got a hit with the exception of Max Schrock in what was a balanced South Carolina attack. After wasting a bases-loaded, no-out opportunity in the first inning, the Gamecocks broke through in the fourth off EKU starter Myles Scott.

After Schrock tapped out to the first baseman, Joey Pankake singled to left. With a hit-and-run on, Kyle Martin stroked a bouncing single to right field through the hole the second baseman had vacated to put runners at the corners with one out.

Connor Bright, who has hit safely in every USC game and finished the game 3-for-4, then added an RBI single to left, scoring Pankake, and Grayson Greiner, who hit a two-run homer yesterday, hit an RBI-single up the middle to make the score 2-0.

Facing a new pitcher, a batter later DC Arendas brought Bright and Greiner home with a single into the right field corner to make the score 4-0. The Gamecocks added an unearned run in the seventh on another RBI single by Bright and a run in the eighth on a Pankake sacrifice fly.

With South Carolina facing Clemson next in a three-game series beginning Friday, Holbrook said the streak, while nice to talk about now, likely won't be the story very much longer.

"What we've done up to this point this week won't mean a hill of beans next week," Holbrook said. "It's Clemson and South Carolina. Whether we're 7-0 or 0-7, this is a rivalry our kids get excited to be a part of.

"Hopefully we'll continue to execute our pitches and our pitching staff can keep us in the game. We have to try to continue to do what we do - pitch and play defense.

We're going to need to do that to have a chance to be successful this weekend."

Up Next: South Carolina hosts Clemson Friday for a three-game series at 7 p.m.

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