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March 26, 2014

Diamond Extra: Britt settles in

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Curt Britt got off to a shaky start in the fifth inning, but settled down to put together three solid innings of middle relief in South Carolina's 4-0 victory over Coastal Carolina Wednesday night at Carolina Stadium.

Coming in to relieve Evan Beal, who cruised through the first four innings without allowing a hit, Britt began struggling right away. The Laurinburg, N.C., native gave up a single to center field on his second pitch, then saw the next batter reach base on a fielder's choice.

Britt then issued a walk before loading the bases two batters later when he bobbled a routine grounder several times before picking it up and firing a late throw to first base.

Britt said he had only himself to blame for digging himself into a hole.

"With the comebacker, that's an error I could have easily avoided, but I've just got to do a better job of pounding the zone and working ahead and getting them out quicker and not putting myself behind in counts where I have to fight back or whatever to get an out," Britt said.

But with the top of Coastal's lineup coming around and the go-ahead run at the plate, Britt settled down. He dueled leadoff man Colin Hering over a seven-pitch at-bat before striking him out swinging to end the inning and escape the jam.

Britt (1-0) allowed just one baserunner the rest of the way, striking out three batters in the sixth inning and retiring the side in order in the seventh to earn his first win of the season.

"I just did my best to keep the score at zero and just do my job and get outs," said Britt.

MOONEY'S REDEPTION. Marcus Mooney knows what it's like to fail with the game on the line, and he's felt the sting of that pain recently.

One of USC's better clutch hitters earlier this season, Mooney struck out swinging with one out and a runner on third in the ninth inning of South Carolina's 2-1 loss to Kentucky last Saturday.

And the sophomore shortstop was scuffling at the plate entering Wednesday night's game, with just two hits over his last 14 at-bats.

That's what made it so much sweeter when he stepped into the batter's box in the second inning against Coastal Carolina Wednesday night and roped a two-RBI double down the third baseline.

The base knock scored DC Arendas - the player he stranded last Saturday - and Brison Celek, putting USC on the scoreboard for the first time and giving Mooney something to feel good about.

"It felt real good. I've been struggling," said Mooney. "Baseball's a game of failure, and I failed my share of times this past week, so that felt real good."

FILLING IN FOR GREINER. Like the rest of South Carolina's team, freshman catcher Logan Koch wants junior Grayson Greiner back in the lineup as soon as possible.

But in the meantime, Koch has relished catching every game Greiner sits out with a thumb injury. Koch started in South Carolina's 4-2 win over College of Charleston Tuesday and in its 4-0 victory over Coastal Wednesday, going a combined 2-7 from the plate.

"It's my job to back up Grayson, and if he goes down, I'm here for him," Koch said. "Obviously we want him as healthy as we can, but it was fun to get my innings in and get my at-bats in and do whatever I can for our team."

Koch said he felt comfortable stepping in for Greiner this week, as he's gotten familiar with all of South Carolina's pitchers in fall practice and in bullpen sessions this season.

"I just try to prepare myself for any time that I'm called upon, and I feel like I was prepared to catch them," Koch said.

Of course, it helped when USC's four pitchers allowed just one hit between them in the shutout of the Chanticleers.

"They make my job look pretty easy when they give up one hit and throw the ball where they're supposed to as they did tonight," Koch said.

INJURY UPDATE. USC head coach Chad Holbrook says he doesn't want to take any chances with star catcher Grayson Greiner's injury, which he characterized as "catcher's thumb" earlier this week.

Holbrook said Greiner got a new "apparatus" for his thumb that allowed him to take batting practice before the game Wednesday. Greiner hit a few balls well, but "it was awkward for him," Holbrook said.

"It's like one swing where it flairs up and the pain is unbearable," Holbrook said. "I guess our fingers are crossed."

Greiner could have played Wednesday if it were a must-win game for South Carolina, but with plenty of season left, Holbrook said he doesn't want to risk further injury by rushing him back into the lineup too soon.

"We obviously need Grayson to be there to be the type of team that we want to be," Holbrook said.

Max Schrock, nursing an ankle sprain, hasn't played since South Carolina's 2-1 loss at Kentucky last Saturday. But Holbrook said the sophomore second baseman is getting better, and that he'd be shocked if Schrock can't at least play DH this weekend.

STAYING HOT. Junior third baseman Joey Pankake extended his hitting streak to 12 games Wednesday with a first-inning single he laced up the middle and into center field.

The Easley, S.C., native has warmed up since SEC play began. He entered Wednesday's game coming off a 3-4, three-RBI night against College of Charleston Tuesday and a two-homer series at Kentucky last weekend.

NEXT UP. South Carolina's third SEC series of the season will come this weekend against Tennessee. The Gamecocks play the Volunteers at 7 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

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