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March 18, 2014

Analyst: USC's will to win 'uncanny'

As far as Aaron Fitt of Baseball America is concerned, the seeds for South Carolina's miraculous three-run 'down to the last strike' comeback in the bottom of the ninth inning against Ole Miss on Saturday were planted in 2010.

That's when USC pulled out multiple wins in improbable fashion en route to the school's first-ever national championship in baseball.

When pinch-hitter Max Schrock, hobbled by an ankle injury, stepped to the plate on Saturday with two outs and one Gamecock runner on base and fell behind 1-2 in the count against Ole Miss reliever Josh Laxer, little did we know the next moment would offer a flashback to the 'Cardiac Cocks' of 2010-2011.

"I was watching that game on Saturday and it looked like they were about to lose the series," Fitt said Monday in a podcast. "They were down three runs in the ninth inning and it looked like it was over. I went outside to do some yard work and I came back and South Carolina had won.

"It's incredible what they do over and over again in these settings where they're (dead and buried). It goes back to 2010, really. This uncanny ability to win is just hotwired into them right now. You're down three runs in the ninth and it's no big deal, 'Here we come.' It's insane."

John Manuel credited perhaps the best home-field advantage in college baseball for lifting up the Gamecocks, even when it seems all hope is lost. When the bottom of the ninth started, the crowd of nearly 8,000 fans at Carolina Stadium was on its feet screaming support for USC.

"It does really feel like they're sustained by the 8,000-plus that basically show up every night at Carolina Stadium," John Manuel said on the podcast. "It feels like other teams know it too. It seems like until you get that 27th out, South Carolina is not out of the game. It feels like everybody knows that.

"South Carolina clearly has a decided home-field advantage."

USC's bullpen, which has not allowed a run for 61.1 innings dating back to the Bucknell series in mid-February, was the difference between victory and defeat in the series between the Gamecocks and Rebels, Fitt said.

"That's insane," Manuel exclaimed when Fitt mentioned the ongoing scoreless streak for USC's bullpen. "That was one of the big questions we had about them because Tyler Webb (closer in 2013) had been so good and for so many years during this run they were automatic with Matt Price. Then Webb carried that on."

In the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, Ole Miss relievers allowed eight hits and four runs in 3.1 innings pitched, including Schrock's dramatic game-tying homer in the ninth and Brison Celek's game-winning hit in the bottom of the 10th.

In the top of the 10th, Ole Miss threatened to regain the lead when back-to-back singles put runners on the corners with one out. But Joel Seddon fanned the final two Rebel hitters to escape the jam without giving up a run.

The total numbers compiled by the USC bullpen in three games against Ole Miss: 13.2 IP, 8 hits, 0 runs, 15 strikeouts and 3 walks.

"They've carried on the legacy," Fitt said.

In 25.1 combined innings, Seddon and Cody Mincey have allowed no runs and seven hits with 38 strikeouts and six walks, a key reason for USC's 1.36 staff ERA. Seddon is tied for the SEC lead with six saves.

"Now Mincey and Seddon are taking it to a different level," Manuel said. "It's pretty hard to believe."

Lock-down bullpens separate USC, Vanderbilt and Florida State from other contenders hopeful of earning one of the coveted eight berths in Omaha, Fitt said.

"All three of those bullpens have depth, versatility and anchors," Fitt said. "That's what sets them apart compared to teams like LSU, N.C. State and Ole Miss that are still looking for answers. Ole Miss' bullpen had been good until this weekend."


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