Jordan Gore and Gene Cone
Cody Mincey and Joel Seddon don't just shut doors.
They slam them in your face.
(cue movie announcer voice) It's what they do. It's all they do.
With Wil Crowe on the ropes after getting shellacked for a three-run fifth and issuing a four-pitch walk to start the sixth with the game tied at 3, Mincey stopped Alabama cold then handed the ball to Seddon for the save as the pair stanched the Tide long enough for No. 11 South Carolina to re-take command and wallop No. 8 Alabama 9-3 Sunday in front of a capacity crowd of 8,074 at Carolina Stadium to claim the SEC series from the league's overall leader.
The two pitchers combined to throw four scoreless innings, allowing just two hits while striking out four and walking none.
"We just try to go in there and kind of mimic what our starters try to do," said Seddon, who recorded his team-high 12th save. "We try and go in and try to shut the door, pound the zone and throw strikes."
USC coach Chad Holbrook said he asked his team to treat Sunday's game like a Game 3 of a Super Regional. For him, that meant handing the ball to his two premiere relievers for a longer-than-usual four-inning stretch.
"They were fresh," Holbrook said of Mincey and Seddon. "We didn't have to use them too much yesterday.
"It's our biggest game of the year. We just wanted to keep the game at bay there. I felt like that psychologically, if we got behind it wouldn't be good today, because we've been a little bit fragile. When it got 3-3, I was ready to go to our guys."
With the win, the Gamecocks made sure even if they get swept on the road at Georgia next weekend - which is certainly not the plan - they couldn't go below .500 in the league. What's more, the series win over the SEC's leading team coming into the weekend means a boost to the RPI and, even more, to the team's confidence.
"It's a big win for us," Holbrook said. "Obviously it was an important game. I couldn't be any more proud of my team as I am right now. We had some adversity, we kept battling and we played our best baseball game of the year today in our biggest game of the year. When you do those things, you make your coach proud."
The Gamecocks opened the scoring with two runs in the first off Alabama senior starter Tucker Hawley, a South Aiken product starting for the suspended Jon Keller, the Tide's regular Sunday starter. Marcus Mooney greeted Hawley rudely by putting the screws on a clean single to left center, then advanced to second on a perfect sacrifice bunt from Gene Cone. Joey Pankake then found the gap in right center for a double to the wall, scoring Mooney with ease, and a single to right from Kyle Martin brought Pankake home without a throw to make the score 2-0 with one out.
USC added another run in the fourth when Taylor Widener walked, moved to second on a groundout then scored on an RBI-single up the middle from Jordan Gore.
But just as it looked as if Crowe was on cruise control, having sat down seven in a row since the second inning, Alabama rallied to tie the game with three runs in the top of the fifth on four hits, including a double, and a walk off Crowe, who finally managed to close the frame with the bases loaded.
After Mincey relieved Crowe an inning later and with the Tide under control going into the sixth, Cone continued his remarkable run of late by delivering a two-out, RBI-single up the middle to make the score 5-3 and chase reliever Nick Eicholz who had replaced Hawley in the third. That score lasted just one batter, as Martin plowed a pitch off new Alabama reliever Jay Shaw into left field to score Cone and give the Gamecocks a 6-3 lead through six.
"They came back and kind of punched us in the gut a little bit and zapped the energy out of our dugout and it aw like, 'Uh-oh, here we go again,'" Holbrook said. "And then that three-run sixth was a huge inning for us. Gene with the big hit with second and third with two outs got us in a good spot to win the game."
USC added a run in the seventh on four hits, including an RBI-single from Mooney, who tied a career-high with three hits, and another in the eighth on a Grayson Greiner double that scored Martin, who tied his career-high with four hits.
The Gamecocks' 17 hits were the most in an SEC game this season. Leading the way was a four-hit day from Martin, tying a career high, and three hits each from Mooney and Gore, both of which also were career highs. Mincey (W, 4-0) earned the victory, which propelled USC to 34-11, 12-9 in the SEC, with three league series left to play beginning Friday at Georgia.