Even though South Carolina (30-11, 11-7 SEC) scored double-digit runs in two of three games at Auburn en route to pushing its SEC winning streak to eight games, the biggest differences between the two teams were pitching and defense.
Auburn outhit USC 36-29 in the three games, but the Gamecocks did a better job taking advantage of their opportunities, scoring 28 runs. The Tigers, meanwhile, scored just 15 runs, three in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday.
All three USC starters (Michael Roth, Jordan Montgomery, Colby Holmes) lasted at least five innings, combining to allow 23 hits and 10 runs while striking out 16 and walking five in 17 innings. They all factored into the decision, improving their combined records to a perfect 14-0 and 2.92 ERA in 160 1-3 innings with 133 strikeouts and 33 walks.
Sunday, Colby Holmes and three relievers scattered 16 hits and fanned 13 in the 11-7 victory that secured the sweep, and the 13th straight series victory for the Gamecocks over Auburn.
"You look at the box score and see 16 hits and you think we didn't pitch very well," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "But we pitched really well. They can really hit. Auburn has an outstanding team offensively. It was no surprise to me they were coming at us at the end. We needed every run we could get. We manufactured a few runs in the middle innings and we knew we would need them. They came storming back."
Holmes remained unbeaten at 6-0, allowing four runs on nine hits in five innings. He also matched his career-high with seven strikeouts.
The last time USC lost a series to the Tigers? 1997.
Two of Auburn's three starters failed to pitch beyond the fifth inning, allowing 14 hits, 19 runs and eight walks in 14 1-3 innings. Overall, 12 Auburn pitchers (four in each game) issued 14 walks and hit five USC batters in the three games, including seven walks and three hit batters on Friday.
USC compiled an on-base percentage of .378 in the three straight wins over Auburn. Friday's 12 hits and 13 runs were both season-high totals against a conference opponent.
USC scored three or more runs on five occasions in 27 innings during the three-game sweep, including four runs in four at-bats. Auburn failed to score three runs in an inning until midway through the third game on Sunday, when it tallied three times in the bottom of the fifth.
The Gamecocks were led offensively by LB Dantzler, who went 5-for-13 (.385) with two homers, four RBIs and five runs scored in the series for a .923 slugging percentage. Dantzler belted a two-run homer in the 5-3 win on Saturday and followed up with three hits, a homer, an RBI double and three runs scored in the 11-7 win over the Tigers on Sunday.
After struggling earlier in the season to follow Wee Willie Keeler's advice ("Hit 'em where they ain't"), Dantzler raised his batting average to .250. He is tied for the team-high in home runs (seven) with Christian Walker.
However, Auburn trailed 8-1 at the time, and USC regrouped to plate the next three runs to take a seemingly comfortable seven-run lead into the bottom of the ninth.
USC hitters struck out just 10 times over the three games as they consistently put the ball into play and forced a shaky Auburn defense to make outs. Sometimes, they couldn't.
Contrastly, Auburn hitters whiffed 29 times in the three games, an average of almost 10 strikeouts per contest. It was the most strikeouts by the Gamecocks in a single series against a SEC opponent this season.
Defensively, USC played errorless baseball in the three games at Plainsman Park, an impressive feat on the road, while Auburn committed eight miscues, several occurring in key spots. Those eight errors led to eight unearned runs.
USC raised its team fielding percentage to .979. They've committed just 31 errors in 41 games with 22 games (more than 50 percent) played without an error.
The rare road sweep on the Plains propelled USC into the top four of the SEC standings, as well as a tie for second place with Florida (11-7) in the SEC East with 12 league games remaining.
USC trails Kentucky by two games in the SEC standings.
USC is 11-4 against SEC opponents since opening the conference slate by enduring a three-game sweep at the hands of Kentucky (13-5), which took two of three games from SEC West leader LSU this past weekend.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: LB Dantzler
LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 3-1
OVERALL RECORD: 30-11 (11-7 SEC)
LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:
April 17 vs. College of Charleston, L 4-3
April 20 at Auburn, W 12-5
April 21 at Auburn, W 5-3
April 22 at Auburn, W 11-7
SWEET HOME COLUMBIA: Because of final exams, USC won't play a midweek game for the first time since February. The Gamecocks must wait until Thursday before taking the field again against improving Alabama in a three-game series beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. The first game of the series will be nationally televised by ESPNU.
After a 1-8 start in the SEC, the Crimson Tide have rebounded to sweep Auburn and prevail over Vanderbilt in the last three weekends. This past weekend, Alabama took two of three from the Commodores in Tuscaloosa.
The rebuilding Tide (16-25, 6-12 SEC) started three freshman hurlers in the home series win over Vanderbilt. Alabama was six outs from a sweep before the Commodores scored seven runs in the final two innings to pull out a 9-7 victory, salvaging one game from the series.
Alabama has won two of its last three series at home, but is 0-9 on the road against SEC opponents. So far, the Tide have been swept by Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU in enemy ballparks.
With consecutive road trips to Arkansas (May 4-6) and Georgia (May 11-13) upcoming, USC needs to beat Alabama in order to keep pace in the SEC standings and keep its hopes alive of securing a top-eight national seed and hosting an NCAA Regional and/or Super Regional.
"After Lexington, we were a long way from where we are today," Tanner said. "I'm proud of my guys for battling back. We dug ourselves a hole and we're fighting back. We stayed the course and got back into the hunt. There's still a lot of baseball left. We have two on the road and two at home. A lot of things can happen."
THIS WEEK'S SCHEDULE
April 26 vs. Alabama, 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
April 27 vs. Alabama, 7 p.m.
April 28 vs. Alabama, 1:30 p.m.
* Tanner is now 36-11 against Auburn in 16 seasons as USC coach. His only series loss to the Tigers came in his first season (1997).
* After committing 13 errors in the first 38 games, freshman shortstop Joey Pankake raised his fielding percentage to .909 with a flawless weekend in Auburn. He had seven assists and eight put-outs in the three games on the Plains.
* Friday starter Roth improved to 4-0 by hurling 6 2-3 innings, allowing four runs on eight hits with two walks and a season-high eight strikeouts against SEC competition. Roth has a 2.84 ERA in 66 2-3 innings with 57 strikeouts and 16 walks. Opponents are batting just .194 against him.
* Freshman Montgomery won his first SEC road start and improved to 4-0 with his third victory in league play on Saturday. Montgomery has a 2.59 ERA in 41 2-3 innings with five walks to 32 strikeouts. Opponents are batting .220 against him.
* Freshman Tanner English collected a season-high four hits on Sunday. English is batting .313 (47-for-150) on the year with 27 runs scored. He leads the Gamecocks with 15 multi-hit games and hitting in SEC games with a .313 average vs. league opponents (20-for-64).
* Walker continues to lead the Gamecocks in most major offensive categories. He is batting .336 with seven homers, 40 RBI, a .455 on-base percentage and a .539 slugging percentage that puts him among the conference leaders.
* Matt Price made two appearances at Auburn and is now tied with Rob Mosser (1990-93) for the school record with 88 career appearances. Price is 3-3 with four saves and a 2.96 ERA. He has 57 strikeouts in 48 2-3 innings with opponents batting just .162 against him. All four of Price's saves have come in league play.
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