Ray Tanner was nervous, and didn't mind admitting it. With No. 5 South Carolina in the thick of the race to grab one of the eight national seeds for the NCAA Regionals, and having lost its last two midweek games, Wednesday wasn't the time to be tinkering with the lineup.
But the Gamecocks were hurting, with Christian Walker able to play but not advised to after a slight hamstring pull last week, and it's getting to be the point of the year where Tanner needs to find out just who he has available for the postseason. So even as his lineup card showed six freshmen among the 10 starters, and knowing that Davidson, just like anybody else, was prepared to knock the big bad two-time national champs off their pedestal, he swallowed hard and sent them out.
And watched them fight for a 2-1 win, breaking a sour streak and featuring the newbies setting it up for the veterans to finish.
"I knew starting (Joel) Seddon, you got Grayson (Greiner) and (Kyle Martin) over there and (Tanner) English and (TJ) Costen and (Chase Vergason), he's new, LB (Dantzler), he's new," Tanner said. "I don't look at them too much as freshmen, but you hate to put too many of those guys out there."
Seddon battled through four innings in his first action since March 31, and then handed the reins to Forrest Koumas, who had also been out since March 31 with arm soreness. Those two saw junior Evan Marzilli and Martin get the two RBIs for a lead, then freshman Evan Beal threw two innings before handing it over to standbys Tyler Webb and Matt Price for the game-enders.
The Gamecocks (34-11) didn't blow the Wildcats (16-26) away, but all wins count the same. That Tanner went to so many freshmen and they delivered was a positive sign for the team going forward.
Of course, being 45 games in, they're not really freshmen or first-year players anymore.
"I thought it felt really nice to be out there and kind of show everyone, get back in the groove," Seddon said. "I'm trying to be patient. Tried my best to show coach what I got. There's been a lot of guys that have been pitching well, and I've been waiting for my opportunity."
Seddon, a highly touted freshman, had only thrown a handful of innings before Wednesday due to not throwing a lot of strikes in those frames. He did more than enough to give the Gamecocks room against the Wildcats, striking out five and scattering three hits and a run over four innings.
"I was glad that we had an opportunity to get Joel back out there," Tanner said. "He was pretty good. He was just a little bit off. But that's expected. That was a quality start for me."
He ceded to Koumas, who threw an inning and struck out one, and USC was able to make the two runs it scored in the first four innings last. Marzilli drove in one run on a sacrifice fly while Martin smoked an RBI double for the other, and USC turned to its pitching staff to preserve it.
Beal kept the Wildcats contained until Webb could enter, and when the normally reliable left-hander put two runners on with one out, he was in a jam. Webb bore down for the second out but Tanner summoned Price from the bullpen for the final four - Price struck out Chris Dyer to end the eighth and worked around a two-out walk in the ninth for his sixth save.
"I talked to coaches before the game and they asked me if I was ready to go tonight," Price said. "I got the chance, came in the game, did my job."
The streak was broken and USC kept looking toward a hopeful strong finish and rise into one of the top eight seeds. The Gamecocks leave on Thursday for a weekend series at No. 18 Arkansas.
"I'm excited to play in an environment like that," English said. "Going to be like playing here, but everybody's rooting against us. It will be a cool situation playing there."
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