In a game where No. 3 South Carolina flirted with its first loss of the year, the Gamecocks instead found a way to keep battling, keep believing and, in the end, keep winning.
Held scoreless and down two going into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Gamecocks used a four-run rally to claim a 4-2 victory at chilly Carolina Stadium to keep USC unbeaten on the year at 12-0.
Stetson used a shaky start from USC's Curt Britt to build a 2-0 lead and strong performance from starter Austin Perez to keep it through six innings before he finally got in trouble in the seventh. After a leadoff single from Tanner English, a walk to Marcus Mooney, his second of the game, put runners at first and second with no one out. Max Schrock's fielder's choice, which erased Mooney but advanced English to third, was enough to end Perez' day, and with him out of the game, Joey Pankake promptly lined an RBI-single into center for the Gamecocks' first run.
Kyle Martin then popped up to the catcher, but an alert Pankake took second knowing the catcher wouldn't chance a throw with Gene Cone, who was pinch-running for Schrock, at third. Connor Bright then scored Cone on an infield single, extending his hitting streak to 13 games dating to last year, to tie the game with two outs.
With runners at second and third, designated hitter Weber Pike, a redshirt freshman who had entered the game in the sixth, calmly laced a 2-RBI single up the middle for the game-winning hit and just the second hit of his career.
"The game was certainly in doubt until late," head coach Chad Holbrook said. "I don't know if we had the energy we normally have.
"The kid Perez pitched pretty well against us, changed speeds and pitched in a little bit. He kind of tied us up a little bit. But all in all it was neat the way we won the game. I was certainly proud of Weber; he's one of the best kids I've ever coached. He works extremely hard. He's not necessarily blessed with the most talent in the world but he got a game-winning hit there."
For Pike, who is now 2-for-4 this season with 2 RBI after a 1-2 performance today, delivering with a big at-bat was a confidence booster.
"I got down 0-2, so I was kind of trying to fight it off at that point," Pike said. "I got it over the shortstop's head. It felt pretty good."
After Britt lasted just 2.1 innings, Vice Fiori came on to pitch the next 3.2 before handing it off to Hunter Privette (W, 1-0) in the seventh, Cody Mincey in the eighth and Joel Seddon (S, 4) in the ninth. No reliever allowed a run, stretching the USC bullpen's run of scoreless innings to 36.1.
"Hunter kept them at bay, Vince was very, very good, and Cody and Joel just did what Cody and Joel have done all year," Holbrook said. "I think the bullpen is a strength of our team, and they continue to show that."
For Bright, the afternoon was a tough one to get through both due to the cold weather (43 degrees at first pitch) and Perez' effectiveness, but he said the team's belief in itself prevailed until the Gamecocks could break through.
"Early in the game the ball wasn't falling our way," said Bright, whose seventh-inning RBI gave him 14 on the year, four behind team leader Grayson Greiner's 18. "We try to not panic. That's sort of us as a team, to not press.
"We played our game and strung some hits together. We aren't really worried about our record, we just want to keep winning and play like we're capable of."
For Holbrook, the win wasn't spectacular, but he'll take it
"We played OK," Holbrook said. "Offensively we weren't all there, but we found a way to win."