Pair of five-inning wins send Gamecocks out of slump
South Carolina’s softball team ended its cold streak on a cold night after sweeping in-state rival Furman Tuesday night.
The Gamecocks (19-12, 2-7 SEC) beat the Paladins (14-16) 9-1 in the first game and 10-0 in the second. Both games lasted only five innings due to the mercy rule.
Junior catcher Sarah Mooney helped give the Gamecocks the lead in the third inning of the first game with a grand slam, her eighth home run of the season and first grand slam as a Gamecock, giving the team a 6-1 lead and all the momentum.
“Those are game changers; it really changes the momentum of the game,” head coach Beverly Smith said. “We had done a nice job getting base runners up to that point, but to finally get the big, timely hit was important.”
Freshman Nickie Blue pitched a complete game, only allowing only one run on six hits and striking out six batters. The six strikeouts were a career high for Blue.
The offensive explosion didn’t slow down in the second game. After plating two runs already in the second inning, junior outfielder Kristen Struett and freshman infielder Victoria Williams hit back-to-back home runs to push the Gamecocks’ lead to 5-0.
“When you score early, it takes pressure off your pitcher. We were able to score early in both games, and the kids just relaxed and swung the bats,” Smith said. “Getting ahead was the difference maker today.”
Another difference maker was junior pitcher Julie Sarratt, who pitched a complete game shutout and allowed only five hits through five innings and struck out six batters.
“The mentality today was just to go out and hit my spots and let the defense work behind me. We all did great, and the offense backed us up and put some runs on the board,” Sarratt said.
And back her up the offense did.
Six different players in the Gamecock lineup had a hit, including senior outfielder Chelsea Hawkins, who finished her day going 2-2 at the plate with four RBIs and a walk.
Hawkins entered the contest in the midst of a skid, hitting .212 on the season with only six RBIs. After Tuesday’s games, she had pushed her batting average to .235 and her RBIs into double digits.
“I went up there and really trusted myself,” Hawkins said. “That’s something I’ve been lacking lately. I looked back on the past couple days, let it go and just trusted myself.”
The sweep came at the right time for the Gamecocks. The team was swept by No. 4/3 Tennessee this past weekend and had gone 3-9 in its last 12 games.
Against Tennessee, South Carolina dropped two games by one run. But on Tuesday night, luck was on the team’s side as it plated runs all night and outscored the Paladins 19-1.
“Going to Tennessee, we were only one run short in two games. It was really good to push through tonight and really let our offense hits come out,” Hawkins said.
With hits not coming at a premium in their last 10 games, the Gamecocks found a way to score. The team combined Tuesday for four extra-base hits and four home runs. The team also drew 11 walks in 10 innings.
The team looks to keep its winning ways up as they face SEC opponent Ole Miss this weekend.
“Our kids did a great job drawing the walks today. They did a great job recognizing the strike zone and had great at-bats,” Smith said. “It was great to have people on base when we got the timely hits.”