South Carolina to face Liberty Saturday night
After watching archrival Clemson fall in the opening game of the Columbia regional, the Gamecocks narrowly avoided a similar fate.
South Carolina fought off a pesky Saint Louis team and pulled out a 7-3 victory Friday night at Carolina Stadium to move into the winner’s bracket avoid an elimination matchup with the Tigers.
South Carolina’s bats jumped on Saint Louis early, as the Gamecocks scored in the first, second and fourth innings to open up a 3-0 lead. USC got on the board in the opening frame after an LB Dantzler groundout scored Max Schrock. Graham Saiko homered in the second inning to extend Carolina’s lead to 2-0 and Connor Bright’s RBI single in the fourth gave the Gamecocks a three-run cushion.
After USC head coach Chad Holbrook mentioned in the days leading up to the regional that the corner outfield spots could be up for grabs, starters Saiko and Bright stepped up big for the Gamecocks. The two combined for four hits, a home run, two doubles and three RBIs to lead South Carolina’s offensive attack. The solo blast by Saiko was just his second home run of the season, while Bright broke out of a 0-for-10 slump to pick up his first base hit in over two weeks.
Holbrook said after the game that he felt Saiko and Bright were capable of putting together a big night.
“I just got a sense in practice this week that they were ready to go,” Holbrook said. “Sometimes, if you get away from the game, it actually helps you. I think it did them good that we hadn’t played for a week. The eight days between games, I think, really helped those guys psychologically.”
On the mound, the Gamecocks got another solid outing from Nolan Belcher in what might have been his final start at Carolina Stadium. The redshirt senior surrendered just four hits and one run in 6.1 innings. Belcher did not allow a hit until the fourth inning, as the Billikens could not find an answer to the southpaw hurler. The Augusta, Ga. native stuck out six and did not allow an extra base hit. Belcher surrendered his lone run in the seventh inning before giving way to Adam Westmoreland and Tyler Webb.
Saiko said that having experienced pitchers on the mound helped boost the team’s confidence.
“With the veteran staff we have, they help keep us in the game and give us an opportunity to win,” Saiko said. “It makes us feel a lot more comfortable.”
The Gamecocks looked to be in position to close the game out, but two throwing errors in the eighth inning by USC third baseman Chase Vergason allowed Saint Louis to tie the contest at 3-3. However, South Carolina responded with four runs in the bottom of the frame to put the game out of reach. First baseman Kyle Martin, in just his eighth start at first base of the season, laced a one-out single to drive home Joey Pankake and reclaim the lead for the Gamecocks. Grayson Greiner then scored on a wild pitch and Saiko followed up with an RBI double. Saiko scored on a throwing error to cap off the inning for Carolina.
Holbrook said his team was prepared to face some difficult situations against the Billikens.
“I told our guys all week long that the teams that handle adversity the best play the longest,” Holbrook said. “I was proud of the way they handled adversity when it struck there in the eighth inning.”
The Gamecocks will face Liberty Saturday at 8 p.m., with the winner needing just one more victory to advance to the super regionals.
Although the win puts the Gamecocks in a good position, Holbrook is not satisfied.
“I told the guys that tomorrow is our biggest game of the season,” he said. “I think they understand that.”