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March 9, 2014

Crowe dominates Brown


Elliot Caldwell, Wil Crowe

If Wil Crowe was an animal, he'd be a bulldog.

Or maybe a horse.

Something that fights, something that competes, something that takes every encounter seriously, never gives up and gets stronger as the fight wears on.

Maybe a combination lion-wolverine with a unicorn's horn and pegasus wings that throws lightning bolts.

Yeah, that.

Throwing a dominating eight innings in which he allowed just four hits, walked one and struck out a career-high nine batters, Crowe earned his third win of the season with No. 3 South Carolina's 1-0 victory over Brown to sweep the series and keep the Gamecocks unbeaten on the year at 15-0.

In front of 6,903 fans at sunny Carolina Stadium, Crowe gave the fans a lot to cheer for and think about, including his head coach, Chad Holbrook - who favors the horse comparison, by the way.

"I think he got better as the game went on, too, and that was really, really good to see" Holbrook said when asked about his freshman righthander who threw 109 pitches and said he would have happily kept going. "They had a few good swings on him early in the game and then he established his offspeed pitches and became more dominant.

"Then on top of that, his fastball, just looking at the chart, his fastball was better late than it was early. That's very, very well when you're pushing 100 pitches to throw your best bolts, your best pitches of the day, late.

"That tells you a little bit how strong he is - he's a horse - and on top of that he competes. He starts smelling victory. As talentd as he is, I'm more pleased and impressed with his makeup. His competitive spirit and the way he goes after people. Once he got his offspeed pitches over he threw some really good changeups and breaking balls that made that fastball that was maybe 92, 93 seem quicker than that. It was a great performance from him."

For Crowe, who does most of his talking on the mound, the game was just another opportunity to helo his team win.

"I'm really confident in my defense," said Crowe, who now has 21 strikeouts on the season to three walks in 27.1 innings pitcher. "I was just happy able to throw strikes.

"I just want to give the team the best opportunity to win."

Crowe wriggled out of his most serious trouble in the second, allowing a consecutive double and single to put runners at the corners with one down. Facing the No. 8 hitter he coaxed a grounder to first that Martin gloved, threw to Mooney at second and then sprinted over to catch to complete the 3-6-1 double play and escape the inning. The play, Holbrook said, probably turned the game around.

"Bang, bang, bang, could have gone either way," Holbrook said. "It was a great play. It's something we work on a lot. Early in the game you try to get double plays. If that ball would have happened in the seventh or eighth inning we would have tried to get the runner at third. But it was early in the game.

"It's very, very difficult to turn a one-six-three double play. Wil showed he was a pretty good athlete to get over there. It was a big play in the game for us defensively. Our pitchers work very hard at fielding their position, and we needed it right there."

It wasn't the dominating offensive performance Holbrook wanted to see against Brown's third starter, Christian Taugner, who kept the Gamecocks off-balance with just one run allowed in seve innings of work.

"I don't think we had much gas in the tank today, so to speak, from an offensive standpoint," Holbrook said. "That being said, I thought we were better than one run. I thought we swung the bats better than just one run."

Playing without Joey Pankake (hamstring) and Max Schrock (ankle), both of whom Holbrook said he expects back by Friday for the Ole Miss series, Weber Pike got the nod at designated hitter, DC Arendas played and Jordan Gore played second. The results were mixed - Pike went 2-for-4, but Gore and Arendas combined to go 0-for-7 with an error (Arendas).

"Jordan was 0-for-three but hit two balls on the nose," Holbrook said. "Obviously, not having Max in there and Joey in there, we're a little bit of a different offensive team.

"Not having those guys in there affected us a little bit, and on top of that DC and Grayson (Greiner, 0-for-3) and Connor (Bright, 0-for-4) didn't get a hit. We're fortunate to have won the game."

South Carolina scored its only run of the game in the fourth. Greiner led off with a walk and moved to second on a hard single to right from Kyle Martin. A grounder to third from Bright was fielded by the third baseman, who tried to tag out Martin but missed, loading the bases. Elliott Caldwell then sent a fly to center deep enough to sacrifice Greiner home, but no more runs would score as Pike and Gore both flied out.

Crowe made the lead stand up the rest of the way, giving way to closer Joel Seddon pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his team-leading fifth save of the year.

"Sometimes in baseball there's some game you play where you might should have lost it," Holbrook said. "We won anyway, and I think to have a special-type season you have to win these games."

Note: The win was third shutout of the weekend; in 27 innings, no Brown runner crossed home plate.

Next up: South Carolina hosts Furman Tuesday at 7 p.m. The team will honor Martha Childress, the USC student paralyzed by a stray bullet while awaiting a taxi in Five Points in October 2013. Fans are encouraged to come early to show their support.

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