Game Story By: Jeff Roberson
Worse still for Ole Miss, USC also won Thursday night’s opener to begin the sweep.
This was not the pre-weekend plan for the homestanding Rebels who, like USC, ranked among the Top Ten in the country.
Perhaps Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook summed it up best in his postgame remarks.
“This weekend things just kind of went our way, and that’s what I told the guys,” Holbrook said after talking to his troops. “Sometimes things in this league bounce your way and sometimes they don’t. The key to having a great year is when they don’t bounce your way still trying to find a way to win. Over the course of this weekend, things kind of went our way.”
Ole Miss didn’t play its best and could not find a way to win in spite of it. The Rebels fell to 20-5 overall and 2-4 in Southeastern Conference play. Road trips to Memphis in the midweek for one game and to Mississippi State next weekend are the places Ole Miss must now go to turn things back around.
“The truth of the matter is we were just not very good this weekend in all phases,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “We didn’t pitch it very well, certainly the starting pitching. We didn’t field it very well, which puts more strain on the pitchers. We didn’t hit. Everybody’s to blame, including the coaches.”
So what do they now do?
“We’ll look at the games and go over things,” Bianco said. “Obviously there’s some things we can do better defensively and fix up. We’ve got to get back to playing good baseball, stick together and not lose a lot of confidence. This was a tough weekend for us. Great crowds against a very good team. We just did not play very well. And (USC) showed how good they are.”
In the 4-0 loss Saturday, a three-run top of the first inning by his offense allowed South Carolina starter Adam Hill some breathing room as the two Top Ten teams finished things up. The Rebels only threatened a couple of times all day.
“It was a little bit of a strange game. I don’t think Adam Hill had his best stuff, his best command. But he battled,” Holbrook said. “He gutted it out for us and he kept them off balance enough. I never would have thought the three runs in the first would have held up. (Ole Miss is) too good offensively.”
The Gamecocks are pretty good themselves, improving to a perfect 6-0 in Southeastern Conference play and now at 23-2 overall.
In the first inning, Gene Cone led the game off with a double and later scored on a groundout by John Jones. Alex Destino doubled and scored on a Dom Thompson-Williams single. Jonah Bride singled to score Thompson-Williams.
That was all the scoring in this one, except for a run in the fifth inning when a Thompson-Williams fly ball out scored Jones who had walked.
USC’s Hill said the Gamecock pitching staff is full of confidence, and he was happy to have with the early advantage to work with.
“When you have a lead out there, it’s a lot easier to get quick outs and build momentum,” he said. “Jumping on teams like that is key.”
Andy Pagnozzi started for the first time in a conference game and went 3.1 innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits with no strikeouts and no walks. Closer Wyatt Short relieved him and went the rest of the way, allowing no earned runs on one hit with four strikeouts and one walk.
Bianco said Short proved he can go longer than in the closer role, which he basically already knew.
“We talked about it early on, and especially with the outing today,” he said. “But there are some other things to consider. Once you pull hijm out of there, you have to make some different moves on the back end. Sean (Johnson) will be back next week. It’s always been in the back of my mind (to start Short). But we were hopeful we’d have enough on the front end to leave him in the back. Obviously he showed today he has it in him to pitch several innings, not just a couple.”
Bianco said there is no injury to Johnson, simply that he needed a break.
“Sean has pitched well and competed so well, but his stuff has deteriorated,” Bianco said. “His velocity has gone down, his command has gone down, his strike percentage has gone down. We’ve asked a lot from a kid that’s just a year out of surgery. He didn’t want (to take the break) but he understood. There’s no injury and he will be ready for next weekend.”
Thompson-Williams said the Gamecock pitching staff has been sensational already this season and was again this weekend against Ole Miss.
“Real stellar,” he said. “We just barely got into our pen. Offensively it relieves a lot of pressure.”
Now the Rebels find themselves under a bit more pressure at this point, now with an important week upcoming. How they handle it might go a long way in determining how things set up as March turns to April and baseball season moves into its heart.