Columbia, S.C.--South Carolina used innings of five, seven and four runs to blow open Sunday's game and take the series against the Auburn Tigers in dominating fashion with a 18-4 decision from Sarge Frye Field. With the win the Gamecocks improve to 28-8, 9-6 in SEC play, while Auburn falls to 25-13, 4-11 in conference action. Coach Tommy Slater says the loss is a disappointing one for his club after battling to stay in the game early only to see it slip away thanks to the big inning by the Gamecocks.
"The kids did a nice job of battling back and making it a 5-4 game," Slater says. "Then it was just a really bad fifth inning to give up seven runs. You've got to be ready to pitch at game time and we weren't today. That's the bottom line. That's about all you can say. You put up four and get back in the game. It's a 5-4 game and you've got to be ready to pitch then."
It was the second-straight tough day for the Auburn Tigers on the mound as starter Justin Bristow recovered well after a bad start and didn't pitch all that bad in his second Sunday start in SEC play. In four innings, the sophomore allowed five hits and six earned runs with five coming in the second inning. Reliever Brett Butts had his worst outing of the season, giving up five runs but just one earned in one inning of work. Evan Crawford gave up four earned runs in two innings before giving way to Michael Hurst for the final inning. In his first outing of the season, Hurst allowed two South Carolina runs. Slater says it was an all-around bad day for his guys on the mound.
"After the five-spot in the second, I thought he threw the ball well in the third and fourth," Slater says of Bristow. "We make an error to start the fifth then the single by Smoak. The one thing that Justin has struggled with a little bit is pitching out of the stretch. Today most of the damage done to him was out of the stretch. When he was in the wind-up he was okay. Brett has been outstanding all year. It was one bad outing. I'm not down on Brett Butts. He just had a bad outing today."
Just like Saturday's game, South Carolina used the big inning to take out the Tigers and win the series on Sunday. It started early as Bristow escaped major trouble in the first but wouldn't be as fortunate in the second. Leading off the inning, Phil Disher reached on an infield single that glanced off Bristow's glove. That would be the story of the day for the Tigers as they were close but just couldn't get the job done. That was never more evident than with Cheyne Hurst at the plate. Hitting a ground ball to Eric Skinner at short, Hurst was a good candidate for the double play but Robert Brooks couldn't get the ball out of his glove and Hurst was safe at first.
It proved to be a big play in the inning as Reese Havens followed with a single to left field that Mike Bianucci misplayed to allow the runners to advance to second and third with still just one out. Leadoff man Harvey Lail then made the Tigers pay with a single to left to score two runs. Travis Jones then worked a walk from Bristow to bring James Darnell to the plate looking for something to drive. He did just that, lifting a pitch deep to left field and over the wall for a three-run homer. The blast gave South Carolina a five-run lead with Atwood dealing on the mound.
The score would stay that way until the top of the fourth when the Tigers finally got on the board thanks to the big fly. Leading things off, Josh Donaldson reached second base when his fly ball to right field was dropped, bringing Bianucci to the plate. Already with a home run on the weekend, Bianucci got his second as he drilled a two-run shot to left to cut the Gamecock lead to 5-2. Bristow retired South Carolina in order in the bottom of the fourth and Auburn came back to cut even deeper into the lead.
Leading off, Skinner singled up the middle and quickly moved to second on a balk by Atwood. A walk to Bruce Edwards followed to give the Tigers some life with the heart of the order coming to the plate. Following a Luke Greinke strikeout, Donaldson walked to load the bases for Bianucci. On a shallow fly ball to right field, Skinner tagged up from third. His aggressive play forced an errant throw from right field that went into the dugout allowing Edwards to score on the play as well. That would be it for the Tigers as Jeff Jeffords got Dustin Spruill to end the threat with South Carolina leading now just 5-4.
Just like they did in the second, the Gamecocks came back with their second big inning to put this game away. Leading off the fifth, Darnell reached on an error by Joseph Sanders at third base to get the inning going. Justin Smoak followed with a single to right field to end Bristow's day and bring on Butts. Auburn's top pitcher out of the bullpen this year, Butts had his worst outing of the season and it started right away as he walked pinch hitter Steven Reinhold on four pitches while the junior was trying to put down a sacrifice bunt. It was a huge mistake and a sign of things to come as one out later, with Disher at the plate, a wild pitch scored the first run of the inning and the Gamecocks were just getting started.
The veteran Disher came through for South Carolina with a single to right field that scored two more runs and made it 8-4 Gamecocks with still just one out. Following the second out of the inning, Reese Havens singled to score pinch runner Adam Crisp from second. Another walk, this one to Lail, brought reigning SEC Player of the Week Jones to the plate. Just like he did on Saturday, Jones drilled a three-run homer to put the game away for the Gamecocks. Now leading 12-4, South Carolina put it on cruise control the rest of the way to earn the series win. The Gamecocks added four in the sixth and two more in the eighth to officially blow the game open on the way to an 18-4 victory.
At the plate, Auburn had just five hits as three South Carolina pitchers combined to shut down the Tigers for the second consecutive day. Bianucci had the best day with his two-run homer his only hit but he also added a sacrifice fly for Auburn's only other RBI on the day. Greinke extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a late double.
For the Gamecocks both Jones and Darnell continued to dominate at the plate with two hits and four RBI each. Reese Havens added three hits and two RBI as South Carolina again defeated the Tigers for the series. Auburn hasn't beaten the Gamecocks in a series since 1997 and Slater says it's frustrating to have that opportunity after playing so well on Friday night and to come up on the short end once again.
"We win Friday night, I'm just tired of losing to South Carolina to be honest with you," Slater says. "I'm sure we all are. We haven't beaten these guys since 1997 but you've got to credit them. Ray (Tanner) has turned this program, to me, since 2000 what LSU used to be in the 90's. They went to three College World Series in a row and they're the premier team in this league and have been since about 2000 or 2001."
Auburn returns to action Wednesday night with a game against the Samford Bulldogs at Regions Park in Hoover. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will feature freshman Austin Hubbard on the mound for the Tigers. Next weekend Auburn takes on rival Alabama for a three-game series at Plainsman Park.