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May 11, 2014

Gamecocks sweep Missouri with walk-off victory



20140511 - Missouri Post-game Joey Pankake and Max Schrock -PFC



No stranger to winning in dramatic fashion, No. 17 South Carolina continued its mastery of the art with a 2-1 walk-off victory over Missouri Sunday afternoon.

The walk-off, USC's fifth of the season, secured the sweep of the visiting Tigers in front of a Carolina Stadium crowd of 7,307.

The Gamecocks (39-13, 16-11 SEC) entered the bottom of the ninth inning deadlocked at a 1-1 tie with Missouri (20-30, 6-21 SEC), and struggling offensively.

USC had managed just five hits through the first eight innings off of Missouri right-hander Keaton Steele, and had gone down in order in five of those innings.

"The guy just stuffed us for the first eight frames," said USC head coach Chad Holbrook, who called Steele one of the SEC's best pitchers. "But we were still in the game. It was a one-to-one game. We were going to have the last at-bat no matter what, so our dugout - we had some energy in there.

"It was an important game, and our players knew it. We just needed somebody to step up and make a play."

That's exactly what happened in the bottom of the ninth.

Max Schrock, previously hitless in three at-bats, led off the inning with a triple into the right-center, stretching it to third base when Missouri center fielder Jake Ring booted the grounder in the outfield.

"As soon as I saw that, I had three on my mind," said Schrock of his first triple of the season. "I hit a little wall when I got to second, but I was giving it my all to get to third to get to third because I know if you've got a guy on third and no outs, the percentages are in your favor."

Steele, who picked up the complete-game loss (0-8), then loaded the bases with intentional walks to Kyle Martin and Grayson Greiner, bringing up Joey Pankake.

The Tigers brought in an extra infielder to try to keep a run from scoring, but left themselves vulnerable with a two-man outfield. Pankake lined the first pitch he saw from Steele into an open gap in center field to drive in Schrock and secure the 2-1 victory.

"I was just trying to get something to the outfield," Pankake said. "He'd been throwing a lot of off-speed, so I was kind of looking for it. Coaches told me to be ready for it.

"I got one to hit, and I put a good swing on it."

Pankake was USC's leading hitter, going 2-for-4 on a day when no one else managed more than one hit. After watching his team struggle to get anything going offensively for most of the game, Holbrook was pleased with USC's resiliency and poise when the game was on the line in the final frame.

"I got some guys in here that know what it's like to win a game in the ninth inning, so they're not going to lose hope," Holbrook said.

The Tigers scored first, using Dylan Kelly's two-out homer off Wil Crowe to take a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning.

But Missouri wouldn't stay on top for much longer, as South Carolina answered with a run in the fifth. Junior outfielder Tanner English led off the frame with an infield single, stole second base a batter later and raced home from second on Patrick Harrington's one-out single through the middle of the infield.

The score remained tied at 1-1 until Pankake's RBI single in the bottom of the ninth, with Crowe and Cody Mincey locked in a pitcher's duel with Steele.

Crowe (6-3) tossed seven innings and gave up just one run on four hits and a walk. The freshman right-hander ran his fastball up to 94 MPH and struck out four batters, but got a no-decision and remained winless in his last six starts.

Holbrook liked the improvement he saw Sunday in Crowe, who started his freshman campaign 6-0 before struggling in SEC play.

"He was phenomenal," Holbrook said. "He hit his spots - both sides of the plate. Got his breaking ball over. Threw some changeups in there.

"He was as impressive today as he's been all year."

Mincey followed Crowe on the mound, earning his fifth win (5-0) in two scoreless innings of work. The junior right-hander surrendered just one hit and struck out one batter.

NOTE: Grayson Greiner extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a two-out single into right-center in the fourth inning. The junior catcher went 1-for-3 with a walk.

NEXT UP. The Gamecocks play host to The Citadel at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at Carolina Stadium. USC lost 10-8 to the Bulldogs in Charleston on April 16.

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