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May 17, 2014

Four is perfect number for USC

20140517 - Vanderbilt Post-game Coach Holbrook - PFC

NASHVILLE -- On a day when they had to win the rubber game against Vanderbilt and get some assistance from either Auburn or Alabama in order to secure a bye in next week's SEC Tournament, South Carolina first took care of its own business.

Then they waited.

When LSU polished off a sweep of Auburn before the conclusion of USC's satisfying 6-3 victory over Vanderbilt at Hawkins Field, the Gamecocks knew they had to win and then have Alabama salvage one game against Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa to catapult USC into the fourth seed (and the first round bye) for the SEC Tournament.

The Tide came in at the right time, outlasting the Bulldogs, 2-1, making the Gamecocks the No. 4 seed and Mississippi State the No. 5 seed for the SEC Tournament.

USC faces Mississippi State or Georgia on Wednesday in the late game at Regions Park.

Indeed, four was the perfect number for the Gamecocks on Saturday.

Four runs in the eighth inning, three coming on clutch two-out singles by Joey Pankake and DC Arendas lifted USC to the series-clinching road victory over the Commodores, cementing a 42-14 regular season for the Gamecocks.

The vital win also pushed USC closer to securing a national seed for the upcoming NCAA Tournament, which gets underway in 13 days. USC was No. 12 in the official NCAA baseball RPI when the weekend started, and should jump a few spots into the Top 10 when the new rankings are released late Monday or Tuesday.

"I'm sure our RPI is going to be in the Top 10. That's all you can do," Holbrook said afterwards. "We won a road series against one of the best teams in the country, so I'm proud of my team."

USC lost three of its first four SEC road series (lost at Kentucky, Arkansas Georgia; won at Auburn) before prevailing in Music City.

Freshman righthander Wil Crowe (7-3), whose last win came March 30 against Tennessee, made his first start in his home state (he is from Sevierville, Tenn.) a memorable one by holding Vanderbilt to three runs and four hits in seven effective innings. He matched his season (and career) high with nine strikeouts while walking none.

Crowe set down Vanderbilt in order in six of his seven full innings, allowing two runs on three hits in the bottom of the fourth

"It was an incredible performance by Wil," Holbrook said. "Obviously, it was one of the biggest games of the year for us prior to the start of the game. We had a freshman out there on the road and freshmen up and down the lineup. They played their hearts out.

"Will is a tough nut. He has the heart of a lion. I didn't think he would feel the pressure. We tried to take it as just another game. People say this was for a national seed, but I'm not sure. Vanderbilt could easily win the SEC Tournament."
Joel Seddon replaced Crowe when Vanderbilt's leadoff batter in the bottom of the eighth singled, and the junior from St. Clair, MI, recorded the final six outs to register is 15th save of the season.

USC jumped out in front quickly on Joey Pankake's two-out RBI single to right-center in the top of the first. Marcus Mooney and Kyle Martin opened the inning with singles, but Grayson Greiner bounced into a 5-4-3 double play to put Pankake into a do-or-die situation.

Crowe protected the early lead well by retiring the first nine Vanderbilt batters. The first baserunner for the Commodores didn't reach until a leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth started a two-run uprising for Vanderbilt.

A RBI double into the left field corner and run-scoring single (batter was thrown out at second attempting to stretch the hit on the throw home) gave Vanderbilt a 2-1 lead.

But the Gamecocks battled back to even the score at 2-2 in the top of the sixth when Tanner English greeted reliever John Kilichowski with a single to left. Jordan Gore laid down a bunt along the first base line, but the throw to first was wild, allowing Gore to reach for the third time in the game and English to race to third.

Moments later, the throwing error proved costly as English scampered home on a wild pitch to tie the score at 2-2.

That's where the score stayed until the gripping top of the eighth that had the fans in the stands and the TV audience on CBS Sports Network on the edge of their seats.

After wasting a leadoff double by Greiner in the top of the seventh, USC loaded the bases with one out in the top of the eighth. Gore led off by drawing a walk and reached second on a bunt by Cone, who reached when the throw pulled the Vanderbilt first baseman off the bag.

Holbrook didn't hesitate calling for Patrick Harrington to lay down a bunt with two strikes, and when Mooney walked (he reached base five times as did Gore) the table was set for USC's best hitters.

"I just felt that was our best chance to get a runner into scoring position and Patrick is a tough enough kid to handle that type of pressure," Holbrook said when asked about the vital decision to keep the bunt sign on with two strikes.

Martin singled to center, plating the go-ahead run. Greiner popped to second for the second out, but Pankake delivered an infield single that deflected off the Vanderbilt pitcher and Arenas grounded a sharp single into right for perhaps the biggest hit of his career, giving USC two valuable insurance runs.

"He's gotten some big hits for us this year," Holbrook said of Arendas. "He's been one of our more valuable players, especially in the infield. It was a good matchup for him and he came up with a big hit. It came at a great time, that's for sure."

The two-out, three-run outburst gave USC a 6-2 lead, silencing the Commodores crowd.

"That big four-run inning gave us some breathing room, even though I never felt comfortable against that team," Holbrook said after watching USC strand 10 runners in the first six innings.

"All you can do against Vandy is create some opportunities because it's hard to score against them because their pitchers are so darn good."

Vanderbilt cut the deficit by one run in the bottom of the eighth on a two-out RBI single, but Seddon fanned the final batter he faced in the inning to limit the damage to a single run.

Seddon didn't flinch when Vanderbilt got a one-out double in the bottom of the ninth as he induced a groundout and struckout the final batter to secure the key win, one that could resonate when the NCAA Tournament selection committee sits down and decides on the eight national seeds.

SEC SCORES (Sat, May 17)
USC 6, Vanderbilt 3
Tennessee 7, Florida 5
Georgia 11, Kentucky 10
Arkansas 7, Missouri 5 (11 inn.)
Alabama 2, Miss. State 1
LSU 8, Auburn 1
Texas A&M 9, Ole Miss 6

FINAL SEC EAST STANDINGS: Florida 21-9, USC 18-12, Vanderbilt 17-13, Kentucky 14-16, Tennessee 12-18, Georgia 11-18-1, Missouri 6-24.

1. Florida 21-9 (Clinched No. 1 seed)
2. Ole Miss 19-11 (Clinched No. 2 seed)
3. LSU 17-11-1
4. USC 18-12 (Wins tiebreaker over Miss. St.)
5. Mississippi State 18-12
6. Vanderbilt 17-13
7. Arkansas 16-14
8. Alabama 15-14
9. Kentucky 14-16 (Won series vs. Texas A&M)
10. Texas A&M 14-16
11. Tennessee 12-18
12. Georgia 11-18-1
13. Auburn 10-20*
14. Missouri 6-24*

* 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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