Gamecocks win regional opener
In Las Vegas, the house always wins.
At Carolina Stadium and with Jordan Montgomery on the mound in the postseason, so does South Carolina.
Behind a dominant eight innings from Montgomery, who ran his postseason record to a perfect 5-0, South Carolina remained unbeaten at Carolina Stadium in the NCAA Tournament, claiming a 5-2 win over No. 4-seed Campbell in front of 7,382 fans on a warm Friday night in Columbia.
The Gamecocks (43-16) won their 17th straight postseason game at Carolina Stadium and 28th in a row in the NCAAs in Columbia and advanced to play in tomorrow night's winners bracket game at 7 p.m. against Maryland, which beat Old Dominion 4-3 earlier Friday. Jack Wynkoop (7-5, 2.71 ERA) will start for USC. Campbell plays an elimination game against Old Dominion at 1 p.m. Saturday.
"The best decision I made all week was to give Jordan Montgomery the ball," said USC coach Chad Holbrook. "I don't know if we win that game tonight if Jordan's not out there because there were tense moments, a lot of anxiety out there.
"We weren't quite as loose as we normally are, and to have a cool customer that's been in those situations before his first postseason, as far as NCAA Tournament appearances who knows what pitching on a big stage in a big game in the postseason is all about, he was terrific."
Sporting a miniscule 0.59 ERA in the NCAA Tournament in his career, including 24-inning scoreless streak coming into , Montgomery was masterful against overmatched Campbell, champions of the Big South tournament and five straight. Pitching into the ninth, Montgomery (W, 8-5) tied a season-high with nine strikeouts and allowed five hits and two runs over eight innings.
Montgomery's result on Friday was even more impressive given that just a week ago in Alabama at the SEC Tournament he didn't make it through the fourth inning, allowing six hits and four runs to Mississippi State while walking four and striking out just one.
Montgomery said the biggest difference between then and now was rest and being home.
"Nine days of rest definitely helps," Montgomery said of the time between his start in Hoover a week ago Wednesday and tonight. Then, he was pitching off just four day's rest following a series at Vanderbilt.
"Going off the short rest (last week), it's not an excuse, but I definitely felt a lot better today, and pitching at home, of course, is always a plus."
Montgomery earned the respect of Campbell.
"He threw pretty well tonight," said Campbell first baseman Seth LaRue, whose fourth-inning solo home run was the only run scored off Montgomery until the ninth. "He kind of kept us on our toes and mixed well."
LaRue's coach, Greg Goff, agreed.
"I thought Montgomery was good," Goff said. "Whenever you can throw a changeup in fastball counts, it's hard for hitters to stay back on it.
"I thought he had great arm speed with it, had a lot of deception to it. A lot of our guys didn't adjust and kept swinging at his arm speed. He did a good job.
(His changeup) is an above-average pitch. We haven't seen anybody with that good of a changeup."
Camel starter Heath Bowers (L, 10-4) found trouble immediately, loading the bases on consecutive singles from Marcus Mooney and Max Schrock and a walk to Joey Pankake with no out in the bottom of the first. A Kyle Martin single scored two runs, then after a Grayson Greiner groundout, DC Arendas sacrifice fly got the third run of the inning home before Connor Bright flew out to end the first inning with the Gamecocks ahead 3-0.
"Getting those three runs in the first was a big thing," said USC first baseman Kyle Martin. "We had bases loaded and no outs and came up and started to put the ball into play."
The early success got the crows into the game from the get-go, something Martin said was key to the Gamecocks' good play.
"The crowd here helped us so much," he said. "Our fans get into when the playoffs come around. I think that factor really plays into it."
He'll get no argument from Goff.
"I knew for us to be able to win tonight, I thought we had to have a good start from Heath, and he just was up in the zone and didn't locate," Goff said. "I was kind of disappointed with (Bowers') performance early, especially with the crowd and the first time we've been in a regional like this."
Campbell barked back in the top of the fourth on the second home run of the season from Seth LaRue, a two-out solo shot to left that dropped over the fence into the Campbell bullpen to put the Camels within two at 3-1. The homer snapped Montgomery's scoreless postseason streak at 27.2 innings dating back to 2012, but other than that Montgomery was in command all night. Besides two singles in the first and a leadoff error to open the second, Montgomery retired 18 of the next 19 batters through the top of the eighth, the only blemish being LaRue's blast, and struck out a batter in every inning but the ninth.
The Gamecocks added two more runs in the bottom of the eighth that proved key. DC Arendas and Gene Cone drew walks against Campbell reliever Ryan Thompson around a strikeout by Connor Bright. Arendas moved to third on a fielder's choice from English that erased Cone, then English stole second to put runners at second and third with two out for Marcus Mooney.
Already 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored, Mooney blooped a run to right field to score Arendas and English to make the score 5-1. With the single, Mooney tied his career-high with three hits in a game.
After the game, Goff said Mooney's hit was the play of the game.
"The biggest play was the two-out, two-strike hit to right that got the two runs," Goff said. "It's a 3-1 game going into the top of the ninth, and I thought they'd bring out the bullpen.
"Three-four-five was coming up for us, I felt like we had a shot to score if we could just hold them right there."
Campbell did score in their half of the ninth when Montgomery allowed a single to open the ninth and was relieved by Joel Seddon. After coaxhing a groundout, Seddon allowed a triple to center field on a ball that caromed oddly off English to score the runner from first and make the score 5-2, but from there Seddon relaxed to strike out the last two batters of the game and ensure the win.
"All in all it was a good NCAA Tournament opening win for us. We'll try to get off our feet, rest and
be ready to play a really good Maryland team tomorrow."