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March 30, 2014

Gamecocks sweep Volunteers

No. 2 South Carolina didn't need extra innings or walk-off home runs to defeat Tennessee on Sunday.

Just Wil Crowe.

Throwing 7.1 innings while scattering eight hits, allowing no runs and enjoying a season-high three double plays from his teammates, Crowe picked up his team-high and SEC-leading sixth win of the season in USC's 8-0 win over Tennessee that earned the Gamecocks a series sweep.

It was the 11th shutout of the season for the Gamecocks, tops in the country and three shy of tying the school record set in 1974.

After the game, junior catcher Grayson Greiner - he of the game-winning grand slam Saturday and a solid 2-for-5 performance Sunday with 2 RBI - said Crowe was sensational against the Volunteers.

"I thought today was his best performance of the year," Greiner said. "He was unbelievable today. He attacked the bottom of the zone, he rarely ever got behind the hitter. If he did, he'd still attack the zone.

"I thought all of his stuff was on-point. He kept those guys off balance, and he's got that good of stuff where if he's ahead in the count, he's pretty hard to hit, he's pretty unhittable. What he's been able to do thus far this season has been unbelievable. We feel like every time he gets the ball on Sundays, we've got a pretty good chance to win."

When told of Greiner's assesment of Crowe's effort, USC head coach Chad Holbrook couldn't disagree.

"I thought it was his best, too," Holbrook said. "One, because of the situation of who he was throwing against, and two, from rubber to clay, from rubber to mitt, he was efficient, threw strikes, changed speeds and his changeup was very effective, especially to left-handed hitters even though he threw a few to the righties, he dumped his curveball I there for a strike when he wanted to.

"He's very, very polished for a freshman and has a great competitive spirit about him. He can go to any pitch in any count, which is very rare for a freshman to do."

That the victory came Crowe's home-state university and the team he grew up a fan of, but which didn't recruit him heavily until after the Gamecocks showed interest made the win especially sweet.

"That was a meaningful game for him," Holbrook said. "He's a Tennessee boy, he grew up being a Volunteer fan 20 minutes from their campus. I'm sure he felt a little pressure today going up against his home-state school and threw the ball extremely well. That was very neat to see."

Crowe, not one to belabor a point in post-game interviews or go far beyond what's expected of a freshman to say, admitted the game held special significance.

"It's special," said Crowe, who played in front of 13 friends and family members Sunday, many of whom drove down from his hometown of Sevierville, Tenn. "I'm just trying to help out the team a lot.

"They have a bunch of good guys on their team (Tennessee), and I was lucky to get some ground balls and double plays and get out of some jams.

"I just wanted to help the team win."

With Crowe hurling a shutout that Cody Mincey came on to close out with 1.2 innings of hitless, scoreless relief, USC (24-3, 6-3) got all the runs it would need when it struck for two in the first.

Elliott Caldwell hit a leadoff single to right, moved to second on a wild pitch and took third on a ground out from Max Schrock. Pankake extended his hitting streak to 15 with hit 17th RBI of the year on a short single to center. After Kyle Martin was hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second with one out, Greiner came to the plate to a huge ovation from the crowd. After narrowly fouling out to first, he stroked a single to left center along the same line his home run from last night took for his team-leading 28th RBI.

USC added another run in the third on an RBI-single from Tanner English that scored DC Arendas then put together a four-spot in the fifth. Bright and Arendas started things with back-to-back singles, then back-to-back walks to Mooney and English, the second of which cam after English started in an 0-2 hole, chased Tennessee starter Andrew Lee.

Kyle Serrano came on to face Caldwell in the bases-loaded, no out jam Lee left. Caldwell greeted his first pitch by lacing it to right for a two-RBI double to make the score 6-0. The final run of the inning came on a sacrifice fly from Pankake that gave the Gamecocks a 7-0 lead through five innings. The final run of the game came in the eighth when Greiner doubled to right, scoring Pankake from first to make the score 8-0.

Caldwell, Pankake, Greiner and English all had two hits and 2 RBI to lead a 13-hit USC attack.

Next up: USC plays Appalachian State at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

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