LEXINGTON, KY. - Kentucky scored three in the first, six in the second and never looked back in 13-3 rout of No. 1 South Carolina Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
South Carolina fell to 18-2, 2-2. Kentucky improved to 16-6, 2-2. The two teams play again Saturday at 2 p.m. in a game televised by FOX Sports South.
In the shortest outing of his career, starter Jordan Montgomery (L, 3-2) lasted just two innings, allowing nine runs - seven earned - on 10 hits work before being replaced to start the third by Taylor Widener. The nine runs were the second-most runs allowed by Montgomery in his Gamecock career. As a freshman on April 27, 2012, Montgomery allowed 10 runs, six earned, at home to Alabama.
"Jordan is scuffling a little bit and he's got to try and find himself," Holbrook said. "I think his command is off just a tad, and when he misses, he misses up.
"In the past, his misses were just a little bit here and there and his misses were always down at the knees. If he made a bad pitch he'd get an out because his location was good. Now, he's missing some balls that are elevated and good hitters are putting good swings on them. He has to go back to the drawing board a little bit. I have a lot of confidence Jordan will be fine. He's a big part of our team and a big part of why we've had success here the last couple of years. I would think he'll bounce back."
In his last two starts against quality opponents - Clemson on Feb. 28 and Ole Miss a week ago - Montgomery did not get a decision in the first and took the loss in the second. He allowed six runs in both contests, five earned. Counting Friday, Montgomery has now allowed 21 runs in his last three starts against strong competition and has averaged 4.3 innings per outing.
"I still trust Jordan, I still trust his stuff," Holbrook said. "I thought he was going to give us a good outing tonight. Things snowballed on him, and again, he's just off a little bit.
"There's concern there because he's your Friday night guy and if you don't have a good start on Friday night you have to go to your bullpen a lot and it makes it very difficult Saturday and Sunday.
"We're concerned about him, but I have a lot of confidence he'll bounce back."
A humble Montgomery said he had no answers as to why he's struggling to get batters out.
"They're a good-hitting team," Montgomery said. "They worked me deep in some counts and barreled me up. There's really nothing I can do about it.
"I was just going to go out there and pound the zone like I always do. I still have a little bit more work to do. There's always room for improvement, especially after that. I don't know. I'll figure it out."
South Carolina broke through off Kentucky starter A.J. Reed (W, 4-1) in the first inning with a double down the right-field line from leadoff hitter Marcus Mooney. Max Schrock then hit a grounder deep to the right side that allowed Mooney to advance to third easily, and Pankake dumped a soft single to right that landed perfectly between the second baseman and right fielder for an RBI, his eighth of the year. Pankake led USC by going 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs, including a solo home run in the sixth.
The Wildcats answered immediately with three runs in the bottom of the first. Kentucky got a leadoff double of its own into left field from Kyle Barrett, then after a strikeout Max Kuhn walked to bring up Reed. Reed poked a single into the gap in left to score Barrett, then when Tanner English bobbled the ball while picking it up Kuhn was waved home and scored. English was charged with the error.
Montgomery then struck out Micheal Thomas, but Schrock couldn't handle Ka'ai Tom's grounder, the second Gamecock error of the inning, putting runners at first and third. Thomas Bernal then knocked an RBI-single to right for the third run of the inning before Montgomery could escape with a fly out to center a batter later.
After facing eight batters in the first, Montgmery faced nine in the second, beginning with a leadoff home run second baseman JaVon Shelby, Kentucky's No. 9 hitter, to give the Wildcats a 4-1 lead. Two quick outs later it appeared the Gamecocks would escape with just a three-run deficit, but Kentucky wasn't done. Two straight singles and a home run to left from Thomas made it 6-1 Wildcats, then three more consecutive singles made it 9-1. The final out was only recorded when Matt Reida was throw out attempting to take second after a 2-RBI single.
Besides Mooney's run in the top of the first, USC wouldn't score again until Pankake's homer in the sixth made the score 13-2. Also in the sixth Grayson Greiner drove in Kyle Martin - the only other Gamecock with more than one hit (2-4) - for the third run of the game. South Carolina added two unearned runs in the bottom of the eighth on a hit from DC Arendas, consecutive errors from Kentucky's second baseman and a sac fly from Logan Koch to complete the scoring.
"When you're down 9-1 after two innings, it's very very difficult to win on the road," Holbrook said. "On Friday nights in this league, if you don't get a quality start, it's difficult to win.
"That being said, we didn't help him defensively in the first inning with two errors and contributed to their three runs. We have to pitch and play defense a lot better on Friday night to have a chance to win. We didn't give ourselves a chance to win tonight."