USC drops Tigers in opener

Max Schrock
For two people who needed treatment immediately following the game, Joey Pankake and Max Schrock sure didn't look like a couple of guys playing through pain and injury Friday night.
In front of 7,419 fans at Carolina Stadium Friday night, both players had three hits to pace a 12-hit South Carolina attack as the No. 17 Gamecocks got a much-needed 8-2 victory over Missouri to claim the first game of the SEC series.
After the game Pankake (3-for-4), who was playing through a severe illness, was put on an IV, while Schrock (3-4, RBI) left the game in the ninth inning to begin receiving treatment for his back. Schrock only just returned to the lineup this week for the first time since April 16. Schrock's RBI in the third scored the game's first run and was key to breaking through against Missouri ace Brett Graves (L, 3-5).
"(Max) can be a boost to us even if he doesn't get hits," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "Just psychologically, he boosts the morale of our team.
"You can see that we're much more of a threat when he's in the game. Our lineup has a bit more flow to it, we have some threats back to back to back to back in there who can give you some quality at-bats and give you the opportunity to have some big innings. It was really good to see him in the two games back have two hits and three hits."
"Joey's sick as a dog, he's in there getting an IV. He's a tough nut, a tough kid. I didn't really want to play him - well I wanted to play him, but I didn't think he could play. But he got in there, he's a baseball player. He got into the game a little bit and started feeling better because he stopped thinking about how sick he was and was thinking about how to win the game. He got some big hits for us against a good arm."
The offense was more than enough for starter Jordan Montgomery (W, 7-4), who threw 8.1 innings and allowed just five hits and two runs while walking one and striking out eight.
"He was very, very efficient," Holbrook said. "He's a horse. He doesn't get tired. I think he gets better as the game goes on.
"He has a knack for that. He held his velocity throughout the whole game; that was an impressive performance."
For Montgomery, shaking off a midseason slump to earn four wins in his last six appearances and have pitched well enough to have earned at least one more has been rewarding, especially after since his team has struggled a bit of late.
"This team is definitely better than we've been playing lately, so it's good to see the defense and offense come together to play a good game," Montgomery said.
South Carolina (37-13, 14-11) got on board in the third when a leadoff walk got Gene Cone to first and Marcus Mooney push him to second when he was hit in the back with a pitch with one out. A slow single to right from Schrock scored Cone, a hit Schrock said was a carryover from batting practice.
"Confidence is a huge thing, especially with hitting," Schrock said. "I felt great in BP, and when your swing feels good in BP you take that right into the game and I think that's what I did. I squared the ball up my first at-bat and I think that led into squaring more balls up in the course of the game."
Missouri (20-28, 6-19) wasted no time in answering USC with a leadoff single from Josh Lester, who then stole second and scored two batters later on a Dylan Kelly single to tie the game.
The tie didn't last long, though, as consecutive singles from Greiner and Pankake opened the fourth, then a perfect bunt down the third base line from Tanner English was thrown wildly into right by pitcher Brett Graves, scoring Greiner from second to make the game 2-1. DC Arendas then lined a soft single to left center to score Pankake and make the score 3-1 with no out and runners on the corners, but he was picked off at first and then Gene Cone struck out.
Patrick Harrington drew a two-out walk, however, and when he took off to steal second Missouri bit and threw, allowing English to blaze home and beat the throw as the double steal worked to perfection. Mooney struck out, but the Gamecocks struck for three runs and had a 4-1 lead through four.
The Gamecocks extended the lead in a big way in the fifth with an RBI double from Grayson Greiner that scored Schrock, who reached with a leadoff single - his third of the game - to make the score 5-1. A hit from Pankake and walk to Arendas loaded the bases, and with two out Cone drilled a double down the right-field line to score everyone and increase the lead to 8-1.
"That was a big swing of the bat there by Gene Cone to clear the bases," Holbrook said. "He keeps making contributions, and it's really neat to see."
For regulars like Schrock, returning to the lineup this week has been a relief after sitting out so long.
"It's great to be back," Schrock said. "I felt very comfortable today, and hopefully that's a good sign that I'll get back in the swing of things and continue to progress and move forward."
UP NEXT: USC plays Missouri in Game 2 at Carolina Stadium Saturday at 3:15 p.m. Saturday also is Senior Day at the ballpark, and seniors Hunter Privette and Brison Celek will be honored along with team managers. Fans are encouraged to arrive early as the ceremony will take place on the field at approximately 3:05 p.m. As it did Friday, the gameday shuttle service will operate all weekend from Capital City Stadium instead of the Colonial Life Arena due to graduation ceremonies.
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