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April 23, 2014

Diamond Extra: Privette dominates

Senior reliever Hunter Privette got a rare chance to strut his stuff Wednesday night in USC's 6-1 victory over USC Upstate, and he took full advantage.

The seldom-used right-hander pitched the Gamecocks out of a tight spot in the sixth inning and carried them into the ninth, tossing three perfect innings before handing the reins over to Evan Beal with one out in the final frame.

Privette (1-0), who had pitched just three total innings in five appearances this season before Wednesday, took the mound in the sixth in relief of Curt Britt, who had loaded the bases with just one out.

Privette, easily the least-heralded of USC's four captains, got to work quickly, using a variety of arm angles to strike out Daniel Fickas swinging before getting Tyler Lesch to ground into an inning-ending fielder's choice at second base.

"It's a pretty tight situation there, and I couldn't be more proud of him," said USC head coach Chad Holbrook after the game. "I think that was the part from this game that I feel most proud of is how Hunter performed."

Privette said he feels like entering the game and navigating out of that jam is just part of being a veteran in USC's bullpen, and that he has confidence any of his fellow relievers could have done the same.

Still, it was nice to face more than just a couple of batters at a time, said Privette, who struck out two of the nine batters he faced.

"It felt good to get back out there," Privette said. "I think I'm just an appearance guy - don't really eat up many innings. But it feels good to stay out there for a little while tonight."

MASHING IT. First baseman Kyle Martin and third baseman Joey Pankake combined for seven of USC's 11 hits Wednesday night, and each matched personal records at the plate in USC's 6-1 win Wednesday night.

Martin tied his career-best single-game mark with four hits against USC Upstate. The barrel-chested junior also extended his hitting streak to 11 games in the first inning with a blooped single he placed just inside the third base line. He finished 4-4 with a double, RBI and a run scored.

Pankake matched his single-game, season-high with three hits, going 3-3 with a walk and two runs scored.

"I was seeing it pretty good," said Pankake, who missed out on a potential at-bat when he was subbed out for Jordan Gore in the top of the eighth. "I found the barrel a few times tonight. It felt pretty good."

INJURY UPDATES. For USC, it doesn't appear the injury bug is going away any time soon.

USC's players and coaches are still unsure if second baseman Max Schrock will return to the diamond this season. Schrock left USC's 10-8 loss at The Citadel last Wednesday with a back injury and hasn't played since.

Holbrook speculated after that game that the sophomore might sit out the rest of the year, and said after USC's 8-0 victory over Davidson Tuesday night that he's still not optimistic Schrock will be back any time soon.

Martin said after Wednesday night's game that losing Schrock for any amount of time would hurt, but that other players have been stepping up.

"DC (Arendas) fills that spot very well hitting-wise and defensively, so we're just going to keep our hopes up and hope Max comes back soon," Martin said.

USC suffered another injury scare Wednesday night when Grayson Greiner stayed on the ground for a few minutes after being tagged out in the fifth inning. Greiner "jammed his neck and hit his head pretty good" while sliding headfirst into third base, Holbrook said after the game.

The junior catcher didn't return, as USC's staff thought he might have suffered a concussion.

Holbrook said Greiner passed all the concussion tests, but USC held him out of the game for precautionary reasons anyway. Greiner is expected to be ready to play against Alabama Friday night, which comes as a relief to Holbrook.

"When you get those concussion tests these days when you get your bell rung, a lot of times, you're out a week because of all the baseline concussion testing," Holbrook said. "It's not like it was in the past. When I played, you get your bell run, you played the next day.

"They don't let you do that anymore, and rightfully so."

Martin also left the game before the ninth inning with "a little bit of a sore knee," Holbrook said. Brison Celek filled in for Martin in the final half inning, but Holbrook was optimistic Martin would be okay.

Pankake says he's "really close" to being back to 100 percent. Pankake is still recovering from straining his right hamstring while fielding a ground ball in the rubber match against Florida two weekends ago, but went 3-3 with two runs scored and a walk Wednesday night.

"We're taking it pretty easy on the hamstring right now, but it feels really good playing right now," Pankake said.

Junior reliever Evan Beal, who recently broke his nose playing catch, was back on the mound to close out the game Wednesday night, but left-handed reliever Vince Fiori is still out for this weekend's matchup with Alabama.

Leading up to what he's calling the biggest series of the year, dealing with injuries will probably cause Holbrook no shortage of headaches.

"We'll try to get healed up in the next 24 to 48 hours, I've got a lot of decisions to make on who's going to be the 27 active guys for Alabama, and I hope we can get a few guys back," Holbrook said. "I don't know at this point in time how that'll shake out.

AVOIDING DISASTER. Privette wasn't USC's only pitcher to navigate a sticky situation Wednesday night.

Sophomore right-hander Curt Britt inherited a one-out, bases-loaded jam from USC's starter, Matthew Vogel, in the second inning, but managed to deliver USC to the bottom of the frame unscathed. Britt was already behind 1-0 in the count against Upstate three-hole hitter Erik Samples when he took the mound, but the sophomore reliever tossed three straight strikes to punch Samples out looking.

Britt (2-0) scattered three hits and two walks over 3 2/3 innings pitched to earn the win.

Junior reliever Evan Beal also navigated out of a tight spot, though it was one of his own creation. Beal relieved Privette with one out in the ninth inning and struggled immediately.

The junior struck out one batter, but loaded the bases with a walk and two singles before getting Upstate catcher Luke Weber to ground out to end the game.

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