USC back to above .500 in conference play
Before South Carolina hosted Texas A&M, coach Chad Holbrook said the baseball team had to dig itself out of a hole it created by getting swept at home by Arkansas last weekend.
The Gamecocks (22-6, 5-4 SEC) were able to do just that, completing a sweep of the Aggies with a 6-3 win at Carolina Stadium Saturday afternoon.
“What a difference six days makes,” Holbrook said.
Three home runs, two from senior first baseman LB Dantzler, paved the way for South Carolina’s fourth straight win. It was the second time this season and in his career that Dantzler has had two home runs in one game. The first came on March 13 against Davidson.
The senior leads USC with nine home runs and 32 RBI on the year. His batting average and slugging percentage are also the best on the team.
Dantzler hit .262 with 10 home runs last season. He said the biggest difference in his success this year has been increased confidence.
“Last year I started off a little slow, and I let that compound,” Dantzler said. “I started telling myself I needed to do more — you start looking at your average, you’re hitting .230, ‘I need to hit a 10-run home run right here,’ which you can’t do.”
Senior Adam Westmoreland kept South Carolina in the game with an impressive performance in relief, pitching 4.2 innings after throwing 3.2 innings in Thursday night’s 3-2 win. He gave up three hits and one run, earning his third win of the season.
Westmoreland said he is not concerned about his heavy workload, adding that cardio work between starts has helped him stay in shape. According to Holbrook, the senior was also prepared to pitch Friday if necessary.
Senior Tyler Webb finished the game two-thirds of an inning for his 11th save of the year and his third of the series.
“Can’t say enough about our pitching staff,” Dantzler said. “It’s no secret there’s been no surplus of runs, that’s for sure. Without them, we don’t win. Hats off to them.”
USC took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on an RBI single by freshman designated hitter George Iskenderian. But the Aggies (18-11, 5-4) responded by chasing freshman starter Jack Wynkoop out of the game with a two-run fourth inning.
Dantzler’s first home run tied the game, while the other broke a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the eighth. The Gamecocks added two insurance runs when Texas A&M right fielder Brandon Wood lost a fly ball in the sun.
“We got a little love there on the sun ball — finally,” Holbrook said. “We’re usually the ones that lose it in the sun in our field.”
The Gamecocks clinched the series win with a 6-4 victory Friday night. They jumped on Aggie starter Kyle Martin for five runs in the first inning, which ended when sophomore catcher Grayson Greiner was thrown out at home plate on a bases-loaded single by sophomore center fielder Tanner English.
Senior Nolan Belcher earned his fifth win of the season with a dominant start, pitching 8.1 innings and allowing two earned runs. He was pulled in the ninth inning after a one-out error by sophomore shortstop Joey Pankake. An error in Saturday’s game gives Pankake a total of 11 for the season.
“Last year at this time he had 18, so we’ve made progress,” Holbrook said.
The series win brings South Carolina back above .500 in conference play. The Gamecocks will be back at Carolina Stadium Tuesday night when they host Charleston Southern at 7 p.m. Their next two weekend series will be on the road.
“I try like crazy to teach our guys not to look at them as a series,” Holbrook said. “We have 30 SEC games … When a game’s being played, we try to win it. Trying to win our next game is kind of our motto around here.”