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March 17, 2014

Look Back,Look Ahead: Magic moment



Relief pitcher Reed Scott, himself a hero for his majestic performance in one of South Carolina's most far-fetched victories in recent memory, revealed perhaps the most astounding detail about Max Schrock's unforgettable game-tying homer with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth on Saturday in the first game of a doubleheader at Carolina Stadium.

Schrock's ankle was so painful after his 4-for-5 outing in Friday night's loss to Ole Miss that he didn't even bother taking batting practice before the first pitch of USC's third home twinbill this season.

Didn't matter.

"I've never witnessed something like that," Scott marveled after USC completed a remarkable sweep of the Rebels. "To see somebody not take BP and step up and be able to do that is pretty impressive."

Schrock was told by USC Associate Trainer Brainard Cooper at some point he arrived at the ballpark early for treatment that he would likely be held out of action on Saturday unless a pinch-hitting opportunity arose in the late innings.

Schrock continued to get treatment on his ankle throughout the first game of Saturday's doubleheader and was taped up in the eighth inning when he was told, 'Be ready to go. You're going in there in the ninth,' according to Schrock.

"So I went (to the dugout) and told Coach (Chad) Holbrook I was ready to go," Schrock said. "He called my name and I went up there. I didn't feel very loose."

Holbrook rattled off the determining factors in electing to use Schrock as a pinch-hitter for Elliott Caldwell.

"The wind was blowing out to right. We were down two runs. We needed a pop fly and Max can hit a fly ball to right field," Holbrook said. "It just worked out. People say it was a great decision. But the kid made the play. He is capable of doing that.

"Honestly, it was a no-brainer. They had a right-handed pitcher in there and we had the best hitter on our team sitting in the dugout and he could only do one thing - swing a bat. Well, I'm not the sharpest pencil in the box, but anybody would have put Max Schrock up in that situation. He got a pitch to hit and it worked out for us. He had all the intangibles to hit in that spot."

Most gut-wrenching step in the process? Informing Caldwell he was being lifted for a pinch-hitter. Caldwell was 2-for-4 with a double entering the ninth.

"He was not a happy camper," Holbrook said. "He wanted to fight me. But I want kids that want to fight me. I want kids that want to be up there. He said, 'You kidding me?' I said, 'No. I'm not kidding.' That's what I want. No coach wants a kid to say 'thank you' when you take him out of the game.' He had a good day for us. He put some good swings on it."

Schrock fell behind 1-2 in the count, saw a fastball up in the strike zone and took a mighty swing.

Tie game. Crowd goes wild.

"I saw a pitch up and put a pretty good swing on it," Schrock said. "I definitely wasn't thinking home run. The guy on the mound was good. I had two strikes on me, so was I was just trying to stay up the middle and put it in play and keep the inning alive."

Schrock, who said his ankle was 'a little sore and still a little swollen' in post-doubleheader interviews, hobbled around the bases in a scene reminiscent of Kirk Gibson's iconic game-winning homer off Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland A's in the 1988 World Series.

"Anybody growing up as a baseball player, you've seen that video hundreds of times," Schrock said. "When I was rounding second base, it was kind of hard not to have that image in my mind."

Once the series victory over Ole Miss was secured following a remarkable day of baseball, attention of Gamecock supporters turned to Monday's major polls. Was winning two out of three games over a nationally ranked program sufficient for USC to keep its No. 1 ranking?

Yes.

USC stayed atop the Baseball America poll, widely regarded as the most reliable and trustworthy ranking in the industry, and the Collegiate Baseball poll. The Gamecocks rose one spot to No 2 in the Perfect Game USA poll.

Scott emerged from the shadow of Cody Mincey and Joel Seddon in Saturday's thrilling doubleheader lidlifter, hurling six scoreless innings in relief of ineffective starter Jack Wynkoop. Scott, a freshman from Roswell, Ga., dazzled the Ole Miss hitters with an assortment of pitches by allowing just three hits and walking none while striking out six Rebel batters.

"When I came in, I just wanted to make sure I kept it close because I knew our hitters were going to start scoring some runs," Scott said. "I wanted to throw strikes and keep them off-balance because they're an aggressive team."

Scott set down the first 12 Ole Miss batters he faced before allowing a leadoff single in the top of the eighth. By the time that inning ended, Ole Miss had seen a runner tagged out trying to score on a grounder and another runner gunned down at the plate by leftfielder Caldwell.

Overall, three Rebels were tagged out by USC catcher Grayson Greiner trying to score during the game, two on bullets to home plate by Caldwell.

Frustrations for Ole Miss climaxed in the top of the 10th when they put runners at first and third with one out, but failed to score as Seddon fanned the final two Rebel batters by throwing slider after slider.

Minutes later, pinch-hitter Brison Celek delivered the game-winning hit by singling into the right-field corner to score Greiner with the improbable game-winning run.

"I'm proud of Brison too because he could have tucked his head and been a little bit discouraged that he wasn't in the starting lineup," Holbrook said. "Lo and behold, he helped us win the game there against a really good pitcher. It was a group effort."

Compared to the theatrics of Game 1, the nightcap was tame by comparison as USC starter Wil Crowe (5.1 IP) and bullpen stalwarts Mincey and Sedddon shut down the Ole Miss offense on seven hits. The Rebels scored just one run over the final 16 innings in the series.

With USC clinging to a 2-1 lead, Mincey took over from USC starter Wil Crowe with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the sixth and immediately induced an inning-ending double play grounder to freshman second baseman Jordan Gore.

"Coach (Jerry) Meyers just told me to pitch like I have been pitching, keep the ball low and try to get a slider outside or a fastball away," Mincey said. "Just try to make a pitch to get a ball to Gore or try to get a strikeout."

Tanner English was a starting freshman outfielder in 2012 when USC advanced as far as the national championship series in Omaha, so he has witnessed his share of amazing wins by the Gamecocks over the past three seasons.

His personal experiences augment his significant knowledge about the recent history of USC, the lone team in the country with 200 or more wins from 2010-2013.

"That has been Carolina baseball's M.O. for a while now," English said. "We're not going to give up. We're going to keep fighting. As you've seen, we've been down in some games and we've come back. You can never let your guard down and give up. Baseball is a funny game.

"Coach Holbrook always talks about the baseball gods. The baseball gods are going to help you out if you're playing hard and giving it your all for all nine innings. We're going to do that every time we're out on the field."

English said Schrock's memorable heroics energized USC in the second game.

"It definitely propelled us," English said. "That was crazy. You don't see that a lot. Max is a very special hitter. I know he is hurting and I know he wants to be on that field. He definitely helped us out this weekend with some really good swings."

The last time the exceptional USC bullpen allowed a run? Opening series against Bucknell. Five different Gamecock relievers blanked Ole Miss over 13.2 innings during the three-game series.

With one of the most heart-pounding series wins in recent memory now in the books, USC embarks on the first extended road trip of the season with games at The Citadel and Kentucky on the calendar this week.

One out away from a series-clinching victory in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday at Alabama, the Wildcats surrendered a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth and then a walk-off blast one inning later as the Tide pulled out an improbable win.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Reed Scott
LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 3-1
OVERALL RECORD: 18-1 (2-1 SEC)
NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 1 in Baseball America, No. 1 in Collegiate Baseball, No. 2 in Perfect Game USA.

LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:
Mar. 11 vs. Furman, W 5-0
Mar. 14 vs. Ole Miss, L 6-4
Mar. 15 vs. Ole Miss, W 5-4 (10 Inn.)
Mar. 16 vs. Ole Miss, W 3-1

THIS WEEK'S SCHEDULE:
Mar. 18 at The Citadel, 7 p.m.
Mar. 21 at Kentucky, 6:30 p.m.
Mar. 22 at Kentucky, 2 p.m.
Mar. 23 at Kentucky, 1 p.m.
(All Times Eastern)

NOTES:

-- Scott's numbers through 19 games: 9.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 3 hits, 10 strikeouts, 1 walk, .100 OBA, no extra base hits. In fact, nine Gamecock pitchers (six of whom have hurled 7.2 innings or more) have an ERA of 0.00.

-- Scott on the expectations surrounding the USC program since the wide banner celebrating the consecutive national championships in 2010-2011 stretches across the bases of the mammoth scoreboard overlooking left field: "It's intimidating as a freshman. But as freshmen, we know this team is going to compete. We're going to have to give our all as long as we still have a chance to win. Anyone coming into the program knows we're not just going to give up."

-- Last time the USC bullpen allowed a run? Opening Day vs. Bucknell on Feb. 15. The bullpen extended its scoreless streak of 61.1 innings against Ole Miss.

-- Seddon is tied for the SEC lead with six saves. He is 1-0 with just two hits allowed, 16 strikeouts and two walks in 11.1 innings (10 appearances).

-- Schrock collected a career-high four hits, including a homer, two RBI and two runs scored in Friday night's 6-4 loss. Schrock is hitting .354 (17-for-48) on the year with a team-high four homers and 10 RBI. He has a .467 on-base percentage and a .625 slugging mark.

-- Crowe matched Wynkoop for most wins by a USC pitcher by improving to 4-0 on the season. Crowe limited the Rebels to one run on six hits in 5.1 innings during the rubber game. In five starts, Crowe owns a 1.10 ERA in 32.2 innings with 23 strikeouts compared to four walks. Opponents are hitting .196 against him.

-- Joey Pankake owns a seven-game hitting streak.

-- USC is hitting .315 (203-for-645) as a team with 14 homers, 36 doubles, two triples, a .396 on-base percentage and a .442 slugging percentage. All three marks are second highest in the SEC.

-- The USC pitching staff leads the SEC with a 1.36 ERA. The Gamecocks have 167 strikeouts in 172.0 innings pitched and opponents are hitting .206 against them. Defensively, USC has a team fielding percentage of .980 with just 14 errors in 19 games.



DM


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