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April 1, 2014

Greiner's walk-off wins it again

Beal and Bright

Pankake and Greiner

Greiner-mania is now officially a thing.

Already with a memorable grand slam earlier in the year to spark a comeback against Clemson and fresh off his grand slam walk-off home run to defeat Tennessee on Saturday that clinched the series and earned him the SEC Player of the Week Honors, Greiner was supposed to have Tuesday off against an Appalachian State team with an 8-16 record hitting just .222 as a team and allowing four-plus runs a game.

That night off lasted exactly eight-and-a-half innings.

Having taken no batting practice as he had a cast on his wrist before the game, Greiner came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with Connor Bright in scoring position after Bright singled and was bunted to second by pinch-hitter Jordan Gore.

Bringing in its Friday night starter Jamie Nunn to face the pinch-hitting Greiner, Appalachian State chose not to walk the preseason All-American and pitch to him with first base open and one away in the inning. Even after going 2-0 to Greiner, ASU stuck with Nunn, who worked Greiner to a 2-2 count, then a 3-2 count before the payoff pitch became the payoff swing.

Expecting what he saw, Greiner connected with authority, driving the ball into left field and scoring Bright from second with ease to give No. 2 South Carolina a 2-1 win Tuesday night at Carolina Stadium and sent the crowd of 7,416 and social media universe into Greiner-mania for the second time in four days.

"I wanted the bat in my hands right there," Greiner said of the decision to pinch-hit him for Logan Koch, who started the game and was 1-for-3. "The guy threw me six straight sliders, so I was seeing that pitch pretty good. The sixth one he kind of left up in the zone and I knew I was going to hit it once I saw it out of his hand."

"I got good barrel on it, got it down the line and won the game."

The decision not to walk Greiner was one that surprised both Greiner and his coach, Chad Holbrook.

"I was thinking they're going to walk him," Holbrook said. "I was thinking that before (I pinch hit him for Brison Celek).

"I didn't want Grayson to play tonight. I kind of just conceded that they would put him on, that he wouldn't play. I was more worried about him going in in the top of the tenth and catch."

"I thought it was going to have to be Marcus Mooney and Tanner (English who drove Bright home from second), because I thought they would walk Grayson. But you know they didn't and it worked out for us."

The Gamecocks got a stellar performance on the mound from starter Evan Beal, who pitched 5.1 innings and allowed two hits and no runs while striking out three and walking none. Before being relieved in the sixth, Beal had retired 15 straight batters.

"Evan's been very, very efficient," Holbrook said. "When you look at Evan's line, five-and-a-third with no walks, that makes me feel good."

Relieving Beal was Josh Reagan, Taylor Widener and Vince Fiori (W, 1-0). Reagan allowed an unearned run in the sixth, while Widener and Fiori closed out the seventh, eighth and ninth with scoreless frames to give USC and Greiner a chance to win.

South Carolina improved to 25-3. Appalachian State fell to 8-17.

The Gamecocks opened the scoring in the bottom of the fourth on a one-out infield single from Joey Pankake, who then stole second. After a Kyle Martin strikeout, Bright belted a 3-0 pitch hard to left field, scoring Pankake but recording the third out of the inning when he tried to take second on the play and the relay nailed him.

Appalachian State tied the game in the sixth after Beal was lifted for Reagan with one out. Reagan quickly retired the first batter he saw, but then plunked No. 2 hitter Preston Troutman to put him on first. Reagan attempted to pick Troutman off but his throw sailed past Martin for a two-base error, allowing Troutman to take third where he was singled in a batter later for an unearned run, the only one of the game for the Mountaineers on five hits.

South Carolina threatened in the seventh with a Bright lead-off single, but he was caught stealing and Brison Celek flied out for the second out of the inning before back-to-back singles from Logan Koch and Marcus Mooney put runners at the corners. A popup to short from Tanner English ended the threat, and the teams remained tied until Greiner's ninth-inning heroics.

"We found away to win another tight one," Holbrook said. "I can't say I'm sitting up here proud of the way we swung the bats and played from an offensive standpoint, but I am proud of Evan Beal and Reagan and Widener. Those guys pitched really well.

"I'm lucky to have Grayson Greiner on our team. The kid never ceases to amaze me."

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