Patrick Harrington and Jack Wynkoop
For only the second time in nine SEC series, Chad Holbrook could breathe easy on a Saturday.
Only against the Volunteers back on March 29 has No. 17 South Carolina won an SEC series in the first two games, which it finally did again today in Game 2 when the Gamecocks held on to defeat Missouri 3-1 in front of 7,903 fans to claim the series with one game to play.
With the win, the Gamecocks improved to 38-13, 15-11 in the SEC. Jack Wynkoop (W, 7-3) earned the win, and Joel Seddon increased his team-leading save count to 14.
"It was a big win for us to get for a number of reasons," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "One, an opportunity to win a series on Saturday
"Two, to get that 15th win in the league and take a deep breath. There was a lot of pressure riding on that game today."
After Missouri got a lead in the top of the first on a solo home run from Josh Lester, his first of the year, the Gamecocks took the lead in the third. Back-to-back singles from Patrick Harrington and Marcus Mooney opened the inning, then both runners advanced when Max Schrock sacrificed them over with a bunt down the first base line.
Kyle Martin then hit an RBI-grounder to third, scoring Harrington, and Mooney scored when Grayson Greiner hit a grounder that the third baseman fielded then threw over the head of the first baseman to give USC a 2-1 lead.
That's how the score stood until the bottom of the sixth when Gene Cone reached second on an error by the left fielder, moved to third on a fly to center from Harrington and scored on a Schrock single to center to make the score 3-1.
"Schrock's hit was a bit hit," Holbrook said. "That was a situation we'd messed up in another inning."
"The pressure was on Max there to come up big and he did."
The Gamecocks held Missouri (20-29, 6-20) in check nearly all game with terrific defense and timely pitching, with the only blemish the solo blast in the first inning. Wynkoop pitched a strong 5.2 innings, allowing 5 hits and one run to a walk and two strikeouts before handing it over to Taylor Widener in the sixth.
Widener, who hit 94 on the radar gun and was around the low-90s, pitched into the seventh before handing the ball over to the 1-2 combo of Cody Mincey and Joel Seddon, who closed out the final 2.2 innings without allowing a hit.
"Jack, Taylor, Cody and Joel were terrific," Holbrook said. "We try to pride ourself on pitching and defense, and you'll win your fair share of games when you don't necessarily hit and execute the way you do offensively. That's what we did. That's how important pitching and defense are in this game.
"We pitched our tails off. When you pitch and play 'D' you have a chance to win. We did just enough offensively to win."
"Our bullpen did it's job once again."
Missouri's best chance to threaten the outcome came in the top of the third. Leading 1-0, the Tigers put runners on first and second with no out with a single and a sacrifice bunt that Wynkoop dropped out of his glove for an error. Another sacrifice put runners on second and third with no out, but a fly out to right field got the second out of the inning and a big-league throw home on a laser from Gene Cone to Greiner got the runner just as he slid for the unlikely double-play.
"That was big," Holbrook said. "It changed the whole complexion of the game. We were behind 1-0 and they had second and third with one out.
"The kid made a great throw. He's contributed in a number of ways. He led our team in assists in the fall; he threw out everybody. He had six or seven assists in the fall, and that's almost impossible to do as an outfielder.
"He made a great play to get behind it, got momentum and threw a strike."
Offensively, the Gamecocks were led by DC Arendas, who tied a career-high with three hits (3-for-4), and Patrick Harrington (2-for-3, walk). No other Gamecock had more than one hit.
"I've just been personally working hard," said Harrington, who also had a big catch against the wall in the seventh that possibly saved two runs. "In the outfield during practice and right before the games, I mean they don't talk to me about it, but I dive for balls even on gameday.
"I just want to better prepare myself for being in the game and getting the best reads possible. Offensively, I sold out hitting to the middle of the field. Our hitting coach, coach (Brian) Buscher, has been working with us a lot with it. I want to make sure I don't pull off the ball and stay up the middle."
The effort, while not perfect, was enough to earn the win and give the Gamecocks the chance to sweep an SEC series, which the Gamecocks also last did against Tennessee in March.
"It's been a while that I've been able to catch my breath on a Saturday night," Holbrook said. "So we can catch out breath and know that we have an important game tomorrow. But we also know that no matter what happens tomorrow we have a big week in front of us."
"We've fought and scratched and clawed our way to put ourselves in the conversations that we want to be a part of. Now, as time elapses, we'll be healthy and get the team back that we were earlier in the year.
"When we have a full team, when we've been healthy, we've been very difficult to beat."
UP NEXT: USC plays Missouri in Game 3 at Carolina Stadium Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. As it has the whole weekend, the gameday shuttle service will operate from Capital City Stadium instead of the Colonial Life Arena due to graduation ceremonies.