#3 Gamecocks Take Down #1 Vanderbilt, 5-3

#3 South Carolina used a four-run seventh inning to walk away with a 5-3 series-clinching win over #1 Vanderbilt Sunday afternoon. Matt Price pitched three innings in relief to earn the win as the Gamecocks regained sole possession of first place in the SEC East.

It was everything you hoped it would be. The #1 team and #3 team battling on the diamond for SEC supremacy and perhaps a spot atop the national polls. After the first two games were decided by two runs, Sunday's rubber match was no different. Vanderbilt used back-to-back homeruns to take a 3-1 lead, but Carolina countered with a four-run seventh inning and hung on for a 5-3 win in front of another sell-out crowd at Carolina Stadium. The Gamecocks improve to 28-7 overall and now hold virtually a two-game lead over Vanderbilt in the East with a 12-3 conference mark. Vandy fell to 32-5 on the season and 11-4 in the conference. With Florida's win over Georgia, the Commodores and Gators are tied for second.

"For the third day in a row it was a great college baseball game with two pretty good teams going at it," Gamecock coach Ray Tanner said. "I'm extremely proud of our players for battling. We just willed our way to be successful today. I think it was a combination of the battle that we had and our fans - the fans helped us create a rally there late. (It's) Very important for our environment at home to help us win games so I'm grateful for that."

As the Commodores did the night before, the Gamecocks wasted little time getting on the board on Taylor Hill. Jackie Bradley Jr - batting leadoff after an 0-for-5 performance last night - was moved to the leadoff position. Bradley Jr laced the second pitch he saw into right field for what would have been a single. However, the ball got away from rightfielder Mike Yastrzemski and then he fell trying to get to the ball and kicked it further towards the right field corner. That resulted in Bradley Jr standing on third after the two-base error. Bradley Jr ended up 2-for-5 with a game-tying RBI and a run scored.

"I sort of took the attitude that I realized there was a lot of baseball left - it's only the halfway point - but we have to try and find a way to win," Tanner said. "I talked to Jackie a little bit this morning about getting him in a different environment. He was able to get a couple of hits today."

After battling off several pitches, Scott Wingo hit one down the right field line that dropped in just fair for an RBI double.

After Christian Walker was hit by a pitch and Brady Thomas sacrificed the runners over, the Gamecocks looked primed to get more with runners on second and third and just one out, but Carolina would run themselves out of the inning. Adrian Morales hit a blooper that dropped between the pitcher and second baseman. Wingo was gunned down trying to score for the second out. With Steven Neff - batting DH after having his first career at bat last night - Morales stole second, B.T. Walker was thrown out at home by shortstop Anthony Gomez to end the inning.

What little momentum Carolina had from the previous half inning was gone with one swing of the bat in the second. Jason Esposito hit a bomb just over the 380-foot mark in left center to tie the game at 1-1.

That helped calm Hill down as he was masterful the remainder of his afternoon. He finished with 6+ innings, giving up five hits - just three after the first inning - two runs, no walks, six strikeouts, and two hit batters.

Vandy took the lead in the sixth inning on back-to-back homeruns by Aaron Westlake over the right field wall and Esposito hit his second of the game over the left field wall to give the Commodores a 3-1 lead that ended Koumas' day. Tyler Webb came on and worked around a two-out double to keep the deficit at two runs before handing it over to Matt Price to begin the seventh.

"They came to me before the game and told me that I needed to be in the bullpen earlier," Price said. "They said I might be going in a little bit earlier than usual. They gave it to me and I just did what I had to do."

Steven Neff - making just his fourth plate appearance of his Gamecock career - got the first hit of his career, a leadoff double in the bottom of the seventh.

"We stayed here late last night and put together the line-up and decided to go with him," Tanner said. "Neff is athletic. I know that we have a few guys that have played more, but I like who he is. He went and took some cuts and started the rally for us, and if we had yesterday's breeze he would have had a homerun."

His double ended the day for Hill and started a rally for the Gamecocks. Peter Mooney walked and Robert Beary was credited with a bunt single after reliever Will Clinard slipped trying to plant his feet as he fielded the ball. That loaded the bases, then reliever Kevin Ziomek hit pinch-hitter Greg Brodzinski to bring in Neff and trim the lead to 3-2. Bradley Jr followed that up with a single to center that centerfielder Connor Harrell trapped, bringing in Mooney and tying the game at 3-3.

Wingo came up with an RBI groundout to second that scored Beary to give the Gamecocks a 4-3 lead. After an intentional walk to Walker, Thomas hit flew out to center to score Erik Payne - who pinch-ran for Brodzinski - to give Carolina a 5-3 lead. After Morales was hit on the first pitch by Jack Armstrong, Neff - who led the inning off - hit a shot right at Johns at second who tossed to Gomez covering the bag at second to finally end the inning.

Vanderbilt would make one final push in their half of the ninth inning. Curt Casali led off with a bloop single, but was erased on a fielder's choice groundout by Conrad Gregor. Sam Lind came on to pinch hit and was hit by a pitch. Price fell behind Connor Harrell, but battled back to strike him out for the second out. Price finished it out in style, striking out Kemp to end the game.

"I was losing a little bit of control, but after getting a breather when Coach Meyers and Brady came out to talk to me, I kind of regained myself and went back to pounding the strike zone," Price said.

Price picked up the save Friday night, striking out all four batters he faced. Sunday he picked up the win, giving up just two hits and hitting one batter. In all Price pitched 4.1 innings, recording 13 outs with 11 coming via a strikeout.

For the second time this season, the Gamecocks took two of three from a #1-ranked opponent and continued a trend of knocking off top-ranked teams across athletics.

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