Gamecocks cruise 12-5 in perfect opener

For South Carolina the 2011 season couldn't start any better. A picture-perfect South Carolina afternoon with temperatures in the 70s welcomed a capacity crowd to Carolina Stadium. The 2010 National Championship team was honored. Gamecock great Blake Cooper threw out the first pitch. There was a flyover. And most importantly the Gamecocks left with a 12-5 victory over Santa Clara.

After saying all offseason in interviews that he wanted his team to concentrate on winning one game at a time rather than trying to defend its national title, South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner did budge a little Thursday when he said it was okay celebrate a little during the festivities prior to Friday's season opener. But he admitted after Friday's win, that he was a little nervous his team would lose focus on the actually game with all the other excitement.

On the field, the Gamecocks did more of the same things that helped them on that historic run as good pitching, timely hitting and a big day from World Series MVP Jackie Bradley, Jr. led to a 12-5 South Carolina (1-0) victory over Santa Clara (0-1).

Bradley again showed why he's projected to be one of the top prospects in the upcoming Major League Baseball draft as he finished 4-for-4 and hit the season's first home run, a 2-run blast that traveled over the right field wall, out of the stadium and onto Williams Street which runs adjacent to Carolina Stadium. He also hit 2 doubles and accounted for 3 of the Gamecocks' 12 RBIs.

"Well I'm not surprised because he is a good player," Tanner said, "But even the great ones, in this game you still make outs and he didn't make an out today. And He was up there in some tough situations and that's what you want. You want your [best] guys to be (hitting) in run-scoring opportunities and big at-bats and clutch situations. Sometimes your guys don't come up at the right time. But today he came up in some critical times and he delivered. It was a special game for him opening up today."

First baseman Christian Walker had 2 hits including a 3-run homer in the eighth inning that help put the game away. Scott Wingo added a 2-run line drive over the right field wall in the eighth for the game's final 2 runs.

Left hander Michael Roth (1-0), the starter in the series-deciding game of last year's championship, received the opening day start partially due to that experience and again made the coaches look smart. Roth pitched 5.2 innings giving up just 2 earned runs and four hits while striking out a career-high six batters to pick up the win.

"That's why Roth was there," Tanner said of the excitement surrounding the pregame ceremony. "Of all the guys on our team, he'll say, ‘Now that was fun, now let's go.' He pitched well. He did a nice job for us."

"I'd say a B-," Roth said, asked to grade his performance. "I got ahead of some hitters. I was throwing well. I'd like to see one more zero on the board to be honest with you. … There's things that I do wants to improve on, but that's expected. It's the first start of the year."

But despite several sizeable Carolina leads, Santa Carolina did not go down without a fight.

Bradley's three RBIs put the Gamecocks ahead early and after an Evan Marzilli single pushed the Gamecock lead to 4-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Santa Clara cut the lead in half and ended Roth's day with two RBI singles in the top of the sixth. Roth gave way to Steven Neff with two outs in the inning.

But Santa Clara's pitching seemed to implode in the bottom of the inning as five walks surrendered two runs and a 6-2 USC lead. The first two of those walks would end Broncos starter Brock Simon's day. Simon also pitched 5.2 innings but gave up 5 earned runs on 10 hits.

The Broncos again refused to go away putting together a big eighth inning.

After two singles and a throwing error put runners at second and third, left fielder Pat Stover's 2-RBI single again made it a 2-run game. Right fielder Lucas Herbst would single later in the inning to make it 6-5 and end Neff's day.

Again South Carolina would answer. With the bases still loaded, submariner John Taylor entered the game and wasted little time inducing a ground ball right at shortstop Peter Mooney who flipped it to Wingo who made a quick turn to first for the inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

"The double play kind of gave us momentum," Walker said.

And Carolina used it well. After Adam Matthews walks to lead off the inning, Bradley used the extra life that was afforded him when the Broncos third baseman misplayed an easy fly ball in foul territory by working a full count and then stroking a double to the wall.

Walker then blasted a 3-run shot into the visitor's bullpen to put the Gamecocks up 9-5 and effectively put the game away. South Carolina tacked on three more on a Robert Beary sacrifice fly to deep center and the Wingo 2-run homer.

Taylor, Alex Burrell and Patrick Sullivan combined to work a scoreless ninth effectively ending an exciting day, but a day that Tanner was admittedly ready to see end as other storylines were overriding the actual game coming in.

In addition to honoring the championship team on the field, a National Championship flag was raised in in right center field as 2001 blared in the background and the 8,242 fans in attendance cheered. Blake Cooper threw out the first pitch but in perhaps a sign of the significance of the pregame festivities uncharacteristically bounced the pitch in front of former Carolina catcher Kyle Enders.

"I enjoyed it; I really did. I thought it was outstanding. … It was really special," Tanner said. "And I'm standing over there thinking, I'm kind of glad I don't have to play because this is a little bit difficult right now. (But) our guys did a super job early."

"I think Coach Tanner put that in our minds a while ago, especially about right when we got back for spring," Taylor said. "It's always good to remember and draw from everything that happened last year especially in clutch situations. The experience really helps when you know you can pull from that. But I don't think anyone is thinking of last year in terms of just focusing on it. We've got a new season and everybody is focused and prepared for this year."

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