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March 29, 2014

Greiner's slam downs Vols

Greiner

Gore

With two outs in the ninth and trailing 6-3, pinch-hitter Brison Celek walked calmly to the plate and stung a single into left.

The fans left in the seats from the announced crowd of 7,493 applauded; at least the Gamecocks weren't going to go too quietly.

The ones with their belongings packed and who were making their way to the shuttle buses stopped and clapped briefly, too. Who could blame them for leaving now? After all, they'd already seen an amazing walk-off home run earlier in the day from freshman Jordan Gore that won the first game and ensured that USC would have a chance to win the series tomorrow, and they'd already enjoyed a sun-splashed afternoon and evening that beat the forecast and provided the best baseball weather of the season.

With pinch runner Gene Cone at first, up to the plate walked Max Schrock. Hitless in his last 17 at-bats, battling a twisted ankle and two weeks removed from his own game-winning home run against Ole Miss, Schrock quickly drilled a 1-1 pitch from Tennessee reliever Josh Peterson. Launching it high and deep to right, it sliced like a badly hit golf shot and threatened to bend foul but as it reached the pole it barely stayed fair and the umpire signaled a two-run home run that brought the crowd back to life and stopped the fans who were leaving dead in their tracks.

Something was happening, and even though USC still was down one and had no one on base, people began filing back to their seats, gathering around each other and waiting to see what would happen next.

That energy drained almost completely as Joey Pankake, 2-for-4 with an RBI on the night and having already extended his team-high hitting streak to 14 games, hit a soft fly to right that Tennessee right fielder Scott Price had ages to put himself under. As a disappointed sigh went up from the crowd and they readied themselves to leave, the ball fell into Price's glove - then fell out. For the second time in the game Scott dropped an easy fly, and just like that Pankake was on second representing the tying run with Kyle Martin coming to the plate.

The buzz in the air picked up, and suddenly the Volunteer team that seemed so confident two batters ago wasn't so confident anymore. With first base open and Martin already 2-for-4 the Vols pitched around him, walking him on five pitches to bring up Connor Bright. Bright, who was 0-for-4 on the night with two strikeouts, got quickly down in the count 1-2 but watched a ball go by then was hit by a pitch, trotted to first and before you could say "tension" the bases were loaded with USC All-American catcher Grayson Greiner marching to the plate.

Facing new UT pitcher Peter Lenstrohm, Greiner watched a fastball down the middle go by for a strike then saw a changeup, squared it up and hit it over the concourse in left field so high and so deep that as soon as it left the bat Tennessee players began walking off the field and the crowd into a euphoric frenzy. With one swing of the bat Greiner had his second grand slam of the season and USC had its second walk-off home run of the day as No. 2 South Carolina won the game 9-6 and the series against No. 22 Tennessee.

"I took a first-pitch fastball I could have hit but the ball snuck up on me pretty good," Greiner said. "He hung me a changup, which I knew was his best pitch, and I got just about everything I had behind it.

"This doesn't even feel real, honestly. This team never gives up. Even in the dugout with two outs and nobody on, Billy (Anderson), our strength coach, kept saying, 'We can do this. We've been here before.' And wouldn't you know, it happened again."

"I knew that (ball) was way out of here. I didn't even watch it. I was just taking in the moment. It's not very often you get to play two games in one day and have two walk-off home runs in your own park. I just felt really proud of our team."

With the win, the Gamecocks improved to 23-3, 5-3 in the SEC. Tennessee fell to 19-6, 3-5. The two teams meet with USC looking for the sweep Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

"Obviously that was a special day for us," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "I can't sit here and tell you I've ever seen anything like that."

"I'm awful lucky to be in the same dugout with Greiner, Joey Pankake, K(yle)-Mart(in), all those guys that keep battling.

"We waited til the last frame. Luckily, we saved the best for last."

After watching Jordan Gore's walk-off home run win Game One, the Vols struck early in Game Two with a four-run second in which they sent eight runners to the plate and chased starter Jack Wynkoop. Reliver Vince Fiori surrendered two unearned runs in the fourth to give Tennessee a 6-0 lead, but from there freshman righthander Reed Scott came on to hold the Volunteers scoreless over the final six innings to give USC a chance.

Offensively, South Carolina got its first run in the fourth. After back-to-back singles from Pankake and Kyle Martin began the inning, Connor Bright hit into a 5-4-3 double play to put Pankake on third with two down. Greiner, who finished the game 3-for-5 with 5 RBI, singled him home with a short poke into right field.

The Gamecocks added two more runs in the fifth when Marcus Mooney's infield single was followed by a shot to right from Gore that dropped out of the Scott's glove the first time for an error, putting runners at the corners with no one out. Tanner English popped up to the catcher for the first out of the inning, but Schrock followed with a walk to load the bases for Pankake, whose sacrifice fly scored Mooney. Martin's single to right scored Gore to make the score 6-3, but USC would go quietly in the next three innings before the ninth-inning fireworks.

Next up: The two teams meet again Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

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