SPARTANBURG - South Carolina has found a way to be even nuttier than previously displayed.
Throughout this season, the No. 2 Gamecocks have surged to a marvelous 36-8 record because of several reasons, but team chemistry represents many of those several. Nothing seems to bother this team, as evidenced by its choreographed dugout cheers, bullpen antics and ability to throw every bit of pressure of being the defending national champion into the nearest trash can.
The latest bit of zaniness - Mustache May.
"There's a lot of things that go on around here. I try not to pay attention," coach Ray Tanner observed. "From the looks of some of these guys, I'm starting to become handsome again."
Some of the Gamecocks have no problem with it. Colby Holmes, for instance, had a 5 o'clock shadow on Saturday, when he got the win in a 10-2 beatdown of Auburn. On Wednesday, he showed up for the Wofford game with a nice-sized soup strainer beneath his nose.
Then there was Christian Walker, who approached reporters after a 4-for-5 performance with what looked like a rabid caterpillar attacking his upper lip.
"I got the crust-ache going," he said.
Tanner has relaxed his rules governing facial hair over the past few years - some exceptions before then were the beard worn by SEC Player of the Year Yaron Peters and the swashbuckling pirate mustache sported by Kevin Melillo - and some have taken full advantage. Closer Matt Price has a full beard that is beginning to pass for the Black Forest and Bryan Harper was wearing both the Goose Gossage Fu Manchu, and the Rollie Fingers mustache model at different points this year.
Now it's becoming another example of team solidarity - and perhaps a challenge. Evan Marzilli will try, but already was labeling his attempt as a valiant failure.
"It will take a lot longer than a month for me to grow a mustache," he said.
THE GENERAL: Adam Westmoreland won for the first time since May 12, 2009, after pitching 5 1-3 innings in Wednesday's 9-3 win over the Terriers. It's been a long way back for the redshirt sophomore, who sacrificed his entire 2010 after having Tommy John surgery and couldn't find his rhythm when he was put in this season.
A seven-strikeout performance against Liberty last week got him back on track and Wednesday pushed him further along. Westmoreland wasn't as sharp as he needs to be going forward, but his game was encouraging and helped save the bullpen.
"I think given the situation now, he can pitch more," Tanner said. "We've still got a lot of games left. We need a little help from the left side."
The southpaw gave up a hit to the game's first batter, James Foster, but Foster was a pain in the Gamecocks' side all night, with three singles and a walk. Westmoreland worked out of it with help from his defense, then used his fastball and slider to work out of jams in the later innings.
He struck out five and walked four, yielding six hits but only two runs, when David Roney took him well over the right-field wall in the sixth inning. Tanner blamed himself for not pulling Westmoreland before then, but with Steven Neff at designated hitter (and relieving), he wanted to make sure he wasn't leaving an empty spot in the order.
But Westmoreland's start was encouraging. USC didn't have to use John Taylor or Price, sticking with Neff, Jose Mata and Harper to finish. With midweek games against Presbyterian and Charleston Southern next week, sandwiched between two SEC series, USC needs to preserve its arms as much as possible.
NOT GIVING UP: Neff started at DH and was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, lowering his average to .100. The word seems to be spreading quickly on Neff - he swings early and often in the count, and a curveball will get him every time.
Neff did have one good at-bat on Wednesday, after Marzilli led off the eighth inning with a triple and Robert Beary plated him with an RBI single. Hoping to get another run, Tanner signaled for Neff to bunt and then didn't see the hitter square to bunt on either of his two strikes.
Tanner went out to talk to Neff and had a brief conversation. Neff dropped the bunt, pitcher Brandon Yarusi tried to get Beary at second and everybody was safe. Scott Wingo's sacrifice fly scored the Gamecocks' final run.
"To bunt," Tanner said, describing his instructions to Neff. "I wasn't sure he was that comfortable with the signal so I just thought I'd verbal it and make sure he knew what was going on."
Tanner said he's sticking with Neff at DH, because he likes some things he sees - Neff can square up a fastball - and there's not a lot of other options. The only other available candidates are freshmen Greg Brodzinski, Erik Payne and DeSean Anderson, with Anderson out on Wednesday with a hamstring pull. Michael Roth could also DH, but at this point in the season, using the team's best starting pitcher as a late-game DH could severely backfire.
Anderson could be coming back soon, though. His hamstring pull isn't as serious as first thought and Anderson was running normally on Wednesday, although he did not play. He could DH while he's still feeling his way back into the game, as could Adam Matthews, who took batting practice on Wednesday and seems to be recovering from his hamstring pull.
"We don't have that many options," Tanner said. "I've got a couple of freshmen who haven't had a lot of at-bats. DeSean, he bounced back pretty good. I thought he was going to be out a couple of weeks at least, he's probably not going to be. We could be able to give him a couple of at-bats this weekend."
THE RETURN: Jake Williams returned to Wofford's field for the first time since transferring from the college to USC two years ago. He earned a bases-loaded walk and hit an RBI single.
Williams has played his old school twice this year and has gone a combined 4-for-9 with six RBIs.
SALUTE: Wofford wore camouflage caps with the white "W" on the crest during the game. It was part of a promotion for Military Appreciation Weekend, which is scheduled to be on May 20-21 hosting UNC Greensboro.
Coach Todd Interdonato broke out the caps early, though, after the Terriers had been playing a bit lackadaisical. He brought them out for a game against Western Carolina, and Wofford won, so it's been a staple of the team since., although usually only for a Sunday home game. If the starting pitcher, who chooses the uniforms, elects to wear them, the Terriers wear them.
DOUBLE DIP: For the second consecutive game, USC ended the contest with a double play.
After Wingo began a 4-6 double play to end Sunday's 7-3 win over Auburn and get Price out of a ninth-inning mess, the Gamecocks had another situation on their hands. USC was still comfortably ahead, but Harper had given up an RBI double to make it 9-3 with one out and three-hole hitter Konstantine Diamaduros at the plate.
Diamaduros drove a line shot to center field but Marzilli was charging. He gloved it with little trouble and then couldn't believe his eyes - Mac Doyle had already taken off for third base on the crack of the bat and didn't come back.
Marzilli didn't have to rush the throw - a simple lob settled into Wingo's glove and the game was over.
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