Just 48 hours after finishing up a three-game sweep in which the Gamecocks scored 41 runs on 39 hits, No. 5 South Carolina needed seven innings before it could feel comfortable Tuesday night in a 4-0 win over visiting Presbyterian at Carolina Stadium.
Scoreless through five and clinging to a 1-0 lead through seven-and-a-half, the Gamecocks (4-0) finally got the breathing room they and a lively crowd of 6,642 wanted.
Baffled for five-and-two-thirds innings by the off-speed pitching of Presbyterian starter Brian Kehner (0-1), who only allowed one run through while striking out six, reliever Chad Sanders started the seventh with two quick outs, getting a groundout back to the pitcher from Tanner English and a groundout to short from Marcus Mooney.
A walk to Max Schrock, however, chased Sanders, sending sophomore right-hander Trey Hayes to the mound. Hayes walked Joey Pankake on four pitches and faced lefty Kyle Martin with two on and two out.
Martin, who was 7-for-9 against Bucknell for the weekend, took Hayes' first pitch and deposited it about an inch over the wall in right about 325 feet away from home plate for his first home run of the season.
"Yeah, it barely got out," said Martin, who was 2-for-3 with 3 RBI. "I was trying to hit the ball hard somewhere, maybe put it in the gap to score a run or two. He ended-up leaving a changeup high and I ended-up getting a good piece of it and it got up in the wind."
The home run was something of a redemption for Martin, who an inning before was thrown out easily trying to stretch a leadoff single into a double that wound up costing the Gamecocks a run when Grayson Greiner followed with a walk and was then doubled home by Connor Bright for the game's first run.
"I saw it was in the gap and didn't know how far it would go," Martin said. "It was my mistake, obviously. I head (first base coach) Adrian Morales wrong and ended up keeping going."
At the time the game was scoreless thanks to the hard work of Kehner, a freshman left-hander from Georgia who allowed just one hit through his first five innings.
"We kept it interesting," said Bright, who was 2-for-3 with an RBI. "He was definitely keeping us off-balance and throwing a lot of off-speed (pitches).
"Coach (Holbrook) got us together and said, 'Keep your feet quiet.' That means you try to hit the ball the opposite way, wait on the pitch to get there and don't try to do too much. We started changing our approach, and it worked."
Holbrook said that approach is one he hopes his team would take without being reminded to.
"Our two-strike approach, we pride ourselves on trying to walk more than we strike out," Holbrook said. "With two strikes we try to slow everything down. Have slow feet, fast hands, use the other side of the field. We call it off-speed balance.
"We try to have off-speed balance from the first pitch we step in there, but we didn't do a good job of that today, and you have to tip your hat to (Kehner), too, because he sped our feet up.
"He was good."
Fortunately for the Gamecocks, so was the pitching of starter Curt Britt and relievers Josh Reagan (1-0) and Cody Mincey. The three combined for the second shutout in two days, allowing seven hits and striking out eight while walking two.
In his first start of the year and third of his career, Britt threw 5.1 innings of scoreless baseball with three strikeouts and two walks. In and out of trouble, Britt successfully worked himself out of jams in the second, in which he walked the first two batters; the fourth, in which he allowed singles by the first two batters; and the fifth, in which he allowed two singles, including one to the leadoff batter.
"Curt Britt matched (Kehner) pitch for pitch," Holbrook said. "He got out of some jams there, showed some backbone and kind of bowed his neck."
Britt was removed in the top of the sixth after coaxing a fly out from the leadoff hitter but allowing a solid single up the middle and hitting his pitch count of 70. With a runner on and one out, freshman Josh Reagan came in and allowed his only hit before recording a strikeout and a fly out to center to end the inning. He pitched a scoreless, hitless 2.1 innings before Mincey worked a scoreless 1.1 innings of work in which he allowed just one hit and struck out three to close the door on Presbyterian.
"Josh Reagan and Cody Mincey were special finishing it off," Holbrook said. "It was a good win for us. It was a clean game; again, another game with no errors. When you pitch and play defense, you have a chance, and that's what we did today."
UP NEXT: South Carolina hosts Eastern Kentucky for a three-game series beginning Friday afternoon at 3.