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March 16, 2014

Diamond Extra: Refuse to Lose



Perhaps what transpired Saturday afternoon at Carolina Stadium could be attributed mostly to the ancient adage cautioning "Beware the Ides of March."

More likely it was just the mindset of a wildly successful program that simply refuses to surrender even when all hope appears lost.

Consecutive national championship banners from 2010 and 2011 hang at Carolina Stadium for many reasons.

Some of them might be genetic as Baseball America's Aaron Fitt boldly exclaimed earlier this week on a podcast when he said the will to win and a refuse to lose mentality was ingrained into the DNA of the USC program.

Look no farther than Saturday's thrilling doubleheader sweep over Ole Miss for proof, beginning with the breathtaking ninth-inning comeback in Game 1 capped by Max Schrock's two-out, two-run homer and Brison Celek's game-winning single in the bottom of the 10th.

The doubleheader sweep improved USC to 18-1 and probably gave them enough ammunition to stay No. 1 when most of the major polls are revealed on Monday.

"Some days, baseball puts you at a loss for words," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "I felt that way, especially after Game 1. The beautiful thing about this game is there is no clock and no time limit. You have to get that 27h out.

"I have a resilient group of players and they always believe they can win the game. Lo and behold, they found a way to do it when the odds are stacked against them. We have some good kids in the locker room that never give up and battle and pull for each other."

Currently in his sixth year with the program (he came aboard as an assistant coach in 2009), Holbrook has seen enough incredible rallies by the Gamecocks to agree with Fitt's sentiments, although he acknowledged the 'DNA' began to change in the early 2000s when Ray Tanner led USC to three consecutive College World Series appearances.

"After losing the game last night, they could have easily felt sorry for themselves and not come out with some energy," Holbrook said. "They played their butts off. That's all we can ask them to do. Through thick and thin against a great opponent, they competed their rear ends off. We handed the adversity. You have to win this game. You have to overcome it."

The Gamecocks' secret? There is none, Holbrook contended.

"All we talk about is playing your butts off and working your butts off, and competing hard in the next game," Holbrook said. "Never give up and never give in. But you can say that all you want, but you have to coach kids that believe it. We've been fortunate to coach a group of kids that believe it. I don't know when it started. Maybe it's contagious."

WHO IS REED SCOTT?: The USC bullpen continued its extraordinary season-long run on Sunday and nobody shined brighter than promising freshman Reed Scott, a 6-foot-tall RHP from Roswell, Ga.

Scott replaced USC starter Jack Wynkoop at the beginning of the fourth inning and proceeded to silence the Ole Miss over the next 6.0 innings, facing just two batters over the minimum (18). He allowed three hits and no runs with six strikeouts and no walks. Forty-eight of his 68 pitches were strikes, a 70.6 success rate.

"We just needed him to get some outs for us," Holbrook said. "We put him in initially to save our bullpen for the second game. They were ahead 4-0 and it didn't look good for us. It wasn't close enough to go to (Cody) Mincey or (Joel) Seddon. Reed is a valuable asset to our team because he throws strikes and he has three pitches he can throw in any count at any time.

"It's very rare for a freshman to have that type of polish. I was worried his stuff might not be good enough against (some of Ole Miss' better left-handed hitters) and they had some long fly balls. But he kept them off-balance. He showed the value of pitching ahead in the count. It's 1-2 every hitter. Regardless of how good of a hitter you are, it's difficult to hit like that."

Reed, who has yielded just three hits and fanned 10 in 9.1 IP so far this season, served as the catalyst for yet another outstanding performance by the Gamecock bullpen. Over the course of 10.2 scoreless innings in Saturday's twinbill, the bullpen kept Ole Miss scoreless on six hits with 10 strikeouts and two walks.

The bullpen extended its scoreless streak to 61.1 innings dating back to the season opening weekend against Bucknell.

DIFFERENT LINEUPS: Holbrook employed two different lineups in Saturday's doubleheader. In Game 1, Connor Bright led off for the first time this year while Elliott Caldwell batted second, Weber Pike served as the designated hitter and DC Arendas played second. In the nightcap, Marcus Mooney returned to the leadoff spot (he batted eighth in the opener) while freshman Jordan Gore played second and Game 1 hero Brison Celek was the DH.

"I still don't know who to leadoff," Holbrook said. "I'll take your input. The reason I put Connor in there first was I said, 'Screw it, we don't have a leadoff hitter right now, so let's put our best hitter up there and maybe he comes up that extra time and gets a big hit for us."

With Schrock unable to play defensively in the field, Gore replaced D.C. Arendas in the game 2 lineup after the latter fanned three times in four at-bats in Game 1 and looked overmatched at the plate.

"D.C. was fighting it a little bit," Holbrook said. "He's a really good player for us, but he has been scuffling a little bit. Sometimes when he's not confident in his swing, things can snowball on him. On top of that, it was a tough matchup for him. Their pitcher was very tough on lefty hitters."

In his first SEC start, Gore was 1-for-3 at the plate with a seventh inning single and had a team-high six assists in the field.

"Jordan is a cocky little sucker, and the matchup said play a lefthander hitter," Holbrook said. "I just felt Jordan was a little more confident for the second game. But D.C. will be back in there. He might be back in there on Tuesday night."

NOTES:

-- USC left fielder Elliott Caldwell tied a school record held by many players when he threw out two Ole Miss runners at the plate in Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader, a key factor in the win along with Scott's stellar relief job.

-- Did Ole Miss have the best defensive outfield USC will see all year? Perhaps. The Rebels outfielders caught everything they could run down and made multiple diving catches in the three-game series. "We hit line drive after line drive and those suckers are so darn fast in the outfield, they just kept running them down," Holbrook said.

-- Holbrook reaction to Schrock's momentous game-tying homer: "I don't believe it and I still don't believe it."

SEC SCORES (Sat. March 15):
South Carolina 5, Ole Miss 4 (10 Inn.)(Game 1)
South Carolina 3, Ole Miss 1 (Game 2)
Vanderbilt 5, LSU 3 (Game 1)
Vanderbilt 9, LSU 3 (Game 2)
Miss. State 6, Georgia 1 (Game 1)
Miss. State 4, Georgia 1 (Game 2)
Kentucky 7, Alabama 2 (Game 1)
Alabama 5, Kentucky 3 (10 inn.)(Game 2)
Auburn 5, Texas A&M 2 (Game 1)
Texas A&M 9, Auburn 0 (Game 2)
Tennessee 5, Missouri 1 (Game 1)
Tennessee 4, Missouri 1 (Game 2)
Florida 1, Arkansas 0



DM


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