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April 27, 2014

Diamond Extra: Hit parade



A day after floundering at the plate in a 2-1 loss to Alabama, the Gamecocks responded with a record-breaking offensive performance in their series-clinching victory over the Crimson Tide Sunday afternoon.

No. 11 South Carolina pounded out 17 hits to beat No. 8 Alabama 9-3 in front of a Carolina Stadium crowd of 8,074, shattering its record for hits in an SEC game this season. USC's previous best mark was 14 hits, which it accomplished several times this season.

"The energy in the dugout was awesome today," said junior first baseman Kyle Martin, who went 4-for-5 with two RBI and a run scored, adding later: "This was a big game, a big win. (Coach Holbrook) wanted it big time, so we came out here and tried to make it happen, and just kept the hits going."

South Carolina mustered just one run on five hits in its game two loss Saturday, but matched that production by the second inning Sunday, racking up two runs on five hits to cut Alabama starter Tucker Hawley's day short after two innings.

Every player in USC's lineup but freshman Taylor Widener, who went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored, registered at least one hit. And five players - Marcus Mooney (3-6), Martin, Grayson Greiner (2-5), DC Arendas (2-4) and Jordan Gore (3-4) - had multi-hit games.

Martin, who went a combined 0-8 in the Friday and Saturday games, recorded his third four-hit game of the season, and his second in four games. The Greenville, S.C., native went 4-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored in South Carolina's 6-1 win against USC Upstate Wednesday night.

Shortstop Marcus Mooney tied his single-game season high with three hits Sunday, adding an RBI and a run scored as well. The Loxahatchee, Fla., native also recorded three hits against Furman this year.

And freshman infielder Jordan Gore, making his first appearance of the weekend, started at second base and set his career-high for hits in a single game with three. Gore also recorded an RBI Sunday.

USC head coach Chad Holbrook said he thought the biggest hit of the day was freshman outfielder Gene Cone's two-RBI single to center field in the sixth inning. The hit, which drove in DC Arendas and Tanner English, broke a 3-3 tie and gave South Carolina a solid cushion to build its lead on.

"That kind of got us in a good spot to win the game," Holbrook said.

Holbrook marvels about the job his freshmen have done while several of USC's regular starters have been snake-bitten with injury.

"Gore and Cone and Widener, those guys have the makeup to excel in this league," Holbrook said. "You can't be meek or timid or passive and have success in this league. It will eat you up.

"Those kids aren't meek. They're far from it, and they'll fight you every pitch and scratch and claw. If they make a mistake, they won't get down on themselves.

"I love those traits about them. They've got bright futures in our program. If we can get them in the weight room and (strength coach)Billy (Anderson) can put 15 pounds on them, I think they can be special players.

"Boy, they helped us win today. They've helped us win some big games. We're not 34-11 and where we are in the league without Gene Cone and without Jordan Gore."

Cone has seen more playing time as sophomore Max Schrock has dealt with a back injury, and Gore has made a campaign for a starting job even once outfielders Elliott Caldwell and Connor Bright return from injury as well.

Both say they've enjoyed getting to fill in for the regular starters.

"Getting in there and just getting your reps in is enough," said Cone, who went 3-for-9 with five RBI and two runs score on the series. "But if you're successful and get a hit, it's boosting your confidence."

WHO WOULDA THUNK IT. It appears racking up a lot of hits has a direct correlation to winning college baseball games. USC has won six of its last seven games, and has recorded at least 10 hits in all six of those wins. The only game in that span where they didn't have 10 or more hits? The 2-1 loss to Alabama, where they registered just five.

INJURY UPDATE. Junior outfielder Elliott Caldwell, who played in game one and two this weekend despite a back injury, will get an MRI after the game, Holbrook said.

"It's a struggle for him," Holbrook said. "He's just got one of those injuries, a stress reaction or stress fracture, whatever it is - that a lot of athletes have.

"Some don't know they have it. Some of them can play, and others - it just grips them."

Holbrook compared Caldwell's injury to Max Schrock and Ahmad Christian's back injuries.

"It's a tough injury to play with," Holbrook said. "We're going to get a more firm diagnosis today after the MRI. We've gotten X-rays last week. We'll see the extent of his injury later today."

Junior right fielder Connor Bright was in uniform Sunday, but didn't play while wearing a sling on his right arm. Holbrook said he has been a sling for two days and will remain in that sling for two more.

Holbrook said the staff thinks Bright damaged a nerve in his elbow when he hyper-extended it while diving for a ball in the outfield. It's nothing structural, Holbrook said, but it will be very painful.

"Nerves are slow to heal, and muscles heal a lot quicker than nerves do," Holbrook said. "He might have to play in pain the rest of the year."

Holbrook said Max Schrock, dealing with a back injury, felt better today, but that he's still uncertain whether the sophomore second baseman will play again this season.

"Max could knock on my door Wednesday and say he could play, or he could be out the rest of the year," Holbrook said. "I don't know, and that's the truth. It's just one of those injuries where if he can tolerate it and play, he's going to ask to play.

"If he can't, then we're going to have to look at other options."

Junior Joey Pankake fouled a ball off of his shin Sunday, and was checked out by Holbrook and a trainer before resuming the at-bat. Holbrook said Pankake will be fine by the time USC takes on Georgia in Athens this weekend.

"He looks like he's about 85 years old," Holbrook said. "He can barely walk. He's going to have to suck it up and play."

STRUGGLING CROWE. After a 6-0 start to his freshman season, Wil Crowe can't seem to get over the hump. The hard-throwing right-hander is winless in his last four starts, losing to Arkansas and Florida and picking up no-decisions against Auburn and Alabama.

Crowe (6-2) was dynamite on the mound through four innings Sunday, allowing just one hit and a walk and retiring seven straight batters leading up to the fifth inning. But the wheels came off in the fifth, as the Sevierville, Tenn., native surrendered three runs on four hits and two walks before escaping a bases-loaded jam to end the inning.

"Wil was really good through four innings.," said Holbrook. "I thought he had his best stuff of the year, and then that dadgum fifth inning with young pitchers - it sometimes is a big hurdle to get over."

"He kind of scuffled in that inning. We left him out there, and he did get through it."

Crowe was back on the mound for the sixth, but was pulled in favor of Cody Mincey after issuing a four-pitch walk to the first batter of the frame. Crowe pitched five innings, and was charged with three runs on five hits and four walks. He also struck out three batters.

BIG CROWD FOR A BIG SERIES. South Carolina played in front of a sellout crowd of 8,242 on Friday and Saturday and a crowd of 8,074 on Sunday. There have now been eight sellouts on the season and 38 in Carolina Stadium history.

MARTIN ON THE MOUND? Kyle Martin pitched in several of USC's scrimmages this fall, but has yet to take the mound this spring, much of the chagrin of fans who watched him dumbfound his teammates at the plate this fall with an array of breaking balls.

Martin said after Sunday's game he hadn't been asked to pitch, but that he'd be up for it.

"I wouldn't mind doing it," Martin said.

WHERE THAT LEAVES THEM (IN THE SEC) South Carolina improved to 34-11 overall and 12-9 in the SEC with the victory Sunday afternoon, but still trail No. 6 Florida in the SEC East Standings.

The Gators (30-15, 15-6 SEC) defeated Missouri in Gainesville, Fla., 6-5 in 10 innings Sunday afternoon to complete the sweep of the visiting Tigers.

The Gamecocks come in at No. 5 in the SEC standings overall, trailing No. 8 Alabama (29-15, 13-8 SEC), No. 16 Ole Miss (33-12, 13-8 SEC) and No. 9 LSU (33-11, 12-8 SEC).

USC's remaining SEC series are at Georgia (May 2-4), vs. Missouri (May9-11) and at Vanderbilt (May 15-17).

Florida's remaining SEC series are at Alabama (May 2-4), vs. Vanderbilt (May 9-11) and at Tennessee (May 15-17).

WHERE THAT LEAVES THEM (VS. ALABAMA). South Carolina has now won 10 of its last 13 meetings against Alabama, and the Gamecocks pushed their lead in the overall series to 31-26.





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