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April 11, 2014
Diamond extra: Bullpen lives on the edge
Teetering on the edge isn't something the South Carolina bullpen has often done this season.
Uncharacteristically, they did just that in the top of the eighth inning of Friday night's 4-1 victory over Florida that lifted the Gamecocks into sole possession of first place in the SEC East with an 8-5 conference mark.
Called on to protect a slim 3-1 lead, Cody Mincey walked both batters he faced, putting the tying run on base, before he was replaced by closer Joel Seddon.
Seddon fell behind 3-0 to the first Gator batter he faced before throwing a strike and then inducing a fly out to medium center field. He walked the next UF batter, loading the bases and putting the tying run into scoring position.
But Seddon bore down and got pinch-hitter Zach Powers to roll a grounder directly at USC second baseman DC Arendas, who easily flipped to shortstop Marcus Mooney to start an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play as the sellout crowd of 8,242 erupted.
"Neither one of us was at our best out there tonight," Seddon said. "But you are going to have that every once in a while as a pitcher, go out there and not find it (the strike zone). Maybe trying to do a little too much. I know that's what I was doing. I felt great in the bullpen and I'm sure Cody did too, but once you get into the game you get amped up a little too much.
"You just have to slow the game down. That's what I tried to do. I got that in the ninth inning with the first two hitters and then it got away from me again, so I had to bear down a little more."
Seddon threw Powers a two-seam fastball that tailed away and the junior from Seffner, Fla., (Cody Waldrop's hometown) slapped the ball to Arendas for the tailor-made twin killing.
"I was able to hit the spot and he rolls over a lot," Seddon said. "DC made a great play and Mooney as well. They were able to turn it. I didn't try to change my mindset at all. I still tried to go in there and throw strikes. I'm glad they stuck with him and had faith in me to let me go back out there in the ninth."
Seddon (1-0, 0.00 ERA in 19.0 IP, 4 hits, 0 runs, 27 strikeouts, four walks, .067 OBA) slammed the door in the top of the ninth to record his ninth save of the season. He plunked Florida's No. 9 hitter with two outs, but got the lead-off batter on a comebacker to the mound to give USC the victory.
Mincey, who made his team-leading 17th appearance of the season, and Seddon entered the game with fantastic video game-like numbers, but compiled three walks and two strikeouts in nine batters faced. Most importantly, though, no hits or runs allowed.
As a result, Chad Holbrook offered his dynamic duo a one-night free pass.
"I have a heart attack about every inning," Holbrook laughed when asked if he required medical attention during the inning. "That was uncharacteristic of Cody. He has been darn near perfect all season long. He's human. He got to a 3-2 count on (Richie) Martin and went to a slider. He'll probably tell you that if he had that pitch back, he'd probably challenge him and go right after him with a fastball.
"Hey, our pitching staff has been terrific and our bullpen has been the strength of our team. You look at their line - two innings pitched, no hits, no earned runs, but three walks. That is a concern in a tight game but we pitched around it. Joel came in and got a big F-8. That was a big out and then obviously the double play ball."
SATURDAY'S STARTERS: Coming off an outing at Arkansas in which he allowed four hits and four runs in 6.2 IP, sophomore lefthander Jack Wynkoop is scheduled to make his ninth start of the season on Saturday as USC seeks to clinch the series. He will be opposed by sophomore right-hander Aaron Rhodes, who hurled 1.1 innings at Florida State on Tuesday night in relief.
USC - LHP Jack Wynkoop (5-2, 2.49 ERA, 47.0 IP, 45 hits, 18 runs, 41 K, 7 BB)
FLA - RHP Aaron Rhodes (3-2, 2.48 ERA, 32.2 IP, 25 hits, 9 runs, 35 K, 10 BB)
ANOTHER TIGHT BATTLE: SEC baseball is trench warfare for 10 straight weekends extending from mid-March to late May, and this year is serving up more of the same mouth-watering brand of baseball. After Friday's action, 10 of the 14 league teams have six or seven wins. USC is tied with Alabama and Ole Miss for the best record in the league at 8-5. Right now, with the conference schedule nearing the halfway point, both divisions are up for grabs.
"The way the SEC is this year, everybody is tightly bunched," Holbrook said. "Some team will win six in a row or five out of six and that team might be the one that wins the East because everybody is so bunched up. But even if we have a bad weekend here or there, we're not out of it because things are so tight. That will be the way it is going forward. I see very difficult challenges ahead for our team as well as other teams when you look at the schedule."
-- USC improved to 23-1 at home this season, 178-33 in six seasons at Carolina Stadium, the top hone winning percentage in the SEC during that span.
-- After 33 regular season games, Connor Bright leads USC in hitting with a .352 average (45-of-128). Bright also leads USC in hits and doubles (10).
-- USC played errorless baseball for the second straight game after going eight straight games with at least one error. USC's team fielding percentage improved to .976 (30 errors in 33 games) compared to .961 (48 errors) by the opponents.
SEC RESULTS (Fri. 4/11)
USC 4, Florida 1 (USC leads 1-0)
Georgia 4, Tennessee 1 (Tied 1-1)
Auburn 2, Alabama 1 (Aub leads 1-0)
LSU 5, Arkansas 3 (LSU leads 1-0)
Missouri 8, Kentucky 7 (Mizzou leads 1-0)
Ole Miss 6, Miss. State 1 (OMN leads 1-0)
Texas A&M 10, Vanderbilt 4 (A&M leads 1-0)
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