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May 15, 2014

Music City magic lifts Gamecocks

20140515 - Vanderbilt Post-game Max Schrock -PFC

20140515 - Vanderbilt Post-game Joey Pankake -PFC

20140515 - Vanderbilt Post-game Tanner Engish -PFC

20140515 - Vanderbilt Post-game Coach Holbrook - PFC

NASHVILLE -- Watching South Carolina this season, you get the eerie sense you're viewing the filming of a blockbuster Hollywood movie.

Thursday night's stunning 4-3 victory in 10 innings over Vanderbilt joined the multitude of unlikely wins by USC over the past four months in which the Gamecocks have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

This time, a trio of heroes emerged over the final two innings.

With USC down to its last strike (how often have we said that in 2014?) in the top of the ninth, Max Schrock, barely able to walk but capable of swinging a bat, stroked a game-tying single to even the score at 3-3.

Then, in the bottom of the ninth, centerfielder Tanner English unleashed a missile to the plate to gun down a Vanderbilt runner trying to score the game-winning run on a sharp single.

But the Gamecock heroics were far from over.

Joey Pankake whacked a solo homer over the left-field wall with one out in the 10th inning to give USC a 4-3 lead.

Winning pitcher Joel Seddon (3-1), who entered the game at the start of the ninth, slammed the door on Vanderbilt in the bottom of the 10th after issuing a leadoff walk and Vanderbilt elected to sacrifice bunt the runner over.

With the tying run in scoring position, Seddon struck out the next Vanderbilt batter for the second out before a grounder to second handed USC the improbable victory.

"That was a great college baseball game. Our kids battled and competed until the last pitch and their kids did too," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "We made some great plays, they made some great plays. Tanner made an unbelievable throw to save the game. Max with a hurt back and can barely walk gets the game-tying hit with two strikes and two outs in the top of the ninth.

"It was an incredible baseball game to be a part of. Our guys found a way to win."

Even though Florida clinched the SEC East title by prevailing in an extra-inning battle at Tennessee, USC stayed alive in the hard-fought race for a top four seed in next week's SEC Tournament in Hoover (Ala.) and an all-important national seed when the 64-team NCAA Tournament field is announced on May 26.

USC improved to 41-13 overall, 17-11 in the SEC, while Vanderbilt dropped to 39-15 overall, 16-12 in the SEC.

USC lefthander Jordan Montgomery battled heralded Vanderbilt starter Tyler Beede pitch-for pitch over his seven innings of work, departing in favor of Cody Mincey after throwing 114 pitches.

Montgomery (7.0 IP, 8 hits, 3 runs, 8 K, 1 BB) worked out of trouble all night long, minimizing the damage to three runs and keeping the Gamecocks in the game.

With more than two dozen scouts watching him from the stands, Beede exhibited first-round stuff until exiting with one out in the ninth. However, USC reached reliever Brian Miller for the tying and winning runs in the ninth and 10th innings, respectively.

"We had a better plate approach tonight, but still he is going in the first five picks for a reason," Holbrook said. "He overpowered us for a while. When he's in the strike zone, he is as good as there is in college baseball. he hit 96 (mph) in the ninth inning. You don't see that very much."

After escaping jams in the first three innings, Montgomery yielded the game's first run in the bottom of the fourth on a walk, stolen bases and bouncing RBI single to center.

He escaped further damage, though, on a strikeout-throw out double play.

The play loomed large when USC tallied twice in the top of the fifth when Pankake lined a bases-loaded single to left and DC Arendas chopped a grounder to the Vanderbilt second baseman, who had no time to throw out Schrock at the plate.

Vanderbilt elected to intentionally walk Grayson Greiner with runners on second and third, but Pankake foiled the strategy by rifling a Beede pitch into left for his 26th RBI of the season and the go-ahead run.

After USC took a 2-1 lead, Montgomery set down four straight Vanderbilt batters until one out in the bottom of the sixth when two of the hardest hits balls off the junior southpaw evened the score.

A sharp single to left and long double into the left-center gap plated the tying run. When the runner stole third, the tie-breaking run was 90 feet away and he scored on a sacrifice fly to center.

Following Arendas' RBI groundout in the top of the fifth, USC's bats fell silent against the hard-throwing Beede. He set down 10 straight Gamecock hitters until walking Gene Cone to open the top of the ninth.

It would be a costly mistake for the projected first-round draft pick.

Jordan Gore bunted Cone over. When Marcus Mooney grounded to short off reliever Brian Miller and Cone was unable to advance, USC faced its last out.

Holbrook thought for a fleeting moment about pinch-hitting freshman Taylor Widener for Schrock, but ultimately decided against it.

Great decision.

Schrock delivered in the clutch again, again making a prophet of Holbrook, who has preached several times in the past couple of week that Schrock brings electricity and energy to the USC lineup.

"He had two good swings against a really good pitcher," Holbrook said. "It goes without saying he is a good hitter, so he makes our team better. I almost took him out of the game (in the fifth) when he was at third base. But I'm glad I didn't.

"The poor kid could barely walk to the plate. I almost pinch-hit Widener there (in the ninth). Sometimes the best decisions are the ones you don't make."

Just as he has done on multiple occasions this season, Schrock came through again by grounding a 2-2 pitch into right field, scoring Cone from second base to even the game at 3-3 and igniting the USC dugout.

"My back was a little stiff, so I wasn't trying to do too much with the ball," Schrock said. "I knew the guy put a lot of sink on it, so I was just trying to see a ball up and he gave me one there with two strikes. I put a pretty good swing on it.

"My back hurts, but I never thought about having somebody hit for me. That thought never crossed my mind. I told them I could play and give them the best I've got."

However, the ninth inning dramatics were far from over. Vanderbilt put two runners on base with no outs, but an attempted sacrifice bunt went awry, allowing Seddon to flip to third for the easy force.

The next Vandy batter grounded a sharp single to center. The Commodores third base coach never hesitated in waving the runner home, but English charged the ball and uncorked a laser beam to Greiner at the plate. The USC catcher applied the tag for the second out, denying Vanderbilt the game-winning run.

"Every coach in America is going to send the runner from third (in that situation)," English said. "I was just trying not to screw it up and put a ball to the plate that Grayson could handle. Luckily, I don't think he had to move very much and the ball beat him there. I was pumped up."

Seddon got the final Vandy batter to fly to center, forcing extra innings.

Moments later, Pankake deposited a 1-1 pitch from Miller into the lower left field stands for his fifth homer of the season.

"He's real tough to hit and kind of funky, but I got the pitch I was looking for and I was fortunate to put a good swing on it," Pankake said. "It barely cleared the fence, but I'll take it.

"As soon as I hit it, I saw him take a step in and I said, 'No way.' I thought I hit it a lot harder than that. I'm glad it got out. It was a good team win for us tonight."

Montgomery worked out of trouble in each of the first three innings when Vanderbilt got a runner into scoring position but couldn't muster a run-scoring hit.

In the bottom of the first, a one-out single and stolen base preceded a strikeout and ground out. An inning later, Montgomery worked around a single and stolen base by fanning the side.

In the third, Montgomery was helped by Greiner, who gunned down a Commodore runner trying to advance to third when the ball skipped a few feet away from the junior catcher.

USC saw a golden opportunity to break the scoreless deadlock wasted in the top of the fourth by loading the bases on walks to Greiner and Arendas, but a strikeout and fly out ended the threat off Beede.


-- Holbrook said Schrock was unlikely to play on Friday because he was very sore after Thursday night's game.

USC 4, Vanderbilt 3 (10 Inn.)
Florida 6, Tennessee 5 (11 Inn.)
Ole Miss 8, Texas A&M 4
Kentucky 13, Georgia 0
Miss. State 9, Alabama 4
LSU 10, Auburn 0
Arkansas 9, Missouri 4

SEC EAST STANDINGS: Florida 20-8, USC 17-11, Vanderbilt 16-12, Kentucky 13-15, Tennessee 11-17, Georgia 10-17-1, Missouri 6-22.

1. Florida 20-8
2. Ole Miss 18-10
3. USC 17-11, Mississippi State 17-11
5. Vanderbilt 16-12
6. LSU 15-11-1
7. Alabama 14-13
8. Arkansas 14-14
9. Kentucky 13-15 (Won series over Texas A&M)
10. Texas A&M 13-15
11. Tennessee 11-17
12. Georgia 10-17-1
13. Auburn 10-18
14. Missouri 6-22*

* Eliminated from SEC Tournament consideration.

Note: 12 teams qualify for SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., from May 20-25. Top four teams earn first-round byes


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