Gamecocks to face Clemson or Saint Louis on the road to Omaha
In their regional opener on Friday night, the Gamecocks made things exciting. South Carolina allowed Saint Louis to erase a three-run deficit and tie the game in the eighth inning before pulling away.
Facing a confident Liberty squad in the winners’ bracket, the Gamecocks wasted no time draining the suspense out of the contest.
South Carolina plated seven runs in the first three innings and never looked back, as the Gamecocks blasted the Flames 19-3 before a raucous crowd of 7,816 at Carolina Stadium.
South Carolina pounded out 19 hits on the night and outmatched the Big South Conference champs to move one victory away from a trip to the Super Regionals. Every Gamecock starter reached base safely and the team tied a season-high for runs scored. The win was South Carolina’s biggest margin of victory in the NCAA Tournament in 12 years.
The Gamecock offense experienced one of its best postseason outputs in school history, capped off by a nine-run eighth inning. Five South Carolina batters notched multiple hits on the night and the Gamecocks were aided by five Liberty errors. South Carolina got hits from 11 players and six different Gamecocks had multi-RBI games, led by first baseman Kyle Martin’s career-high four runs batted in. Martin was one of three Gamecocks to homer, along with Max Schrock and Tanner English, who blasted his first collegiate home run in 397 career at-bats.
The home run came as a surprise to English, who said he had not hit a home run in a game since playing for the Lower State championship in high school.
“The umpire was signaling that it went out,” English said, “and I thought it was some kind of sick joke at first. I couldn’t stop smiling the whole way around the bases.”
South Carolina pitcher Jordan Montgomery dominated from start to finish, as the Gamecock hurler struck out a career-high 11 batters and allowed only three hits. Montgomery recorded the first six outs of the game via strikeout, escaping an early jam by striking out the side after allowing runners to reach second and third in the second inning, and flummoxed Liberty all night long to pick up his fifth victory of the season. The sophomore silenced a Flames lineup that racked up eight runs and 13 hits one day earlier versus Clemson. Montgomery exited after seven innings and 91 pitches, falling just two innings shy of his first career complete game.
Montgomery said the three strikeouts in the second inning were a huge turning point.
“I was just trying to throw damage control there,” Montgomery said. “I hit my spots a few times and got lucky.”
South Carolina’s defense was solid behind Montgomery, committing no errors despite substituting multiple backups into the field throughout the later innings. Montgomery noted that the stellar defensive play made his job easier.
“It helps when your defense is playing that way,” he said. “We had four or five web gems out there.”
Head coach Chad Holbrook said that he knew during the early innings of the game that Montgomery was on his way to a big night.
“When Jordan has his changeup going, he’s tough,” Holbrook said. “I knew when he was throwing some of those changeups for strikes early that he was going to be tough to handle.”
With the win, the Gamecocks now sit in the driver’s seat heading into Sunday. USC needs just one win to claim the regional, while either Liberty or Clemson will have to beat South Carolina twice to advance to the Super Regionals. USC will face the winner of Liberty/Clemson tomorrow night at 7 p.m.
While the Gamecocks are not sure if they will face the Flames or the Tigers, Martin knows which matchup most fans are pulling for.
“If we get to play Clemson, it’s always a great atmosphere,” he said. “If it so happens that we do, then we’ll look forward to it.”