But a South Carolina rally wasn't to be as the Commodores broke through for four runs in the top of the ninth and shut USC down in the bottom half to take a 7-2 victory and hand the Gamecocks their first loss of the 2011 SEC Tournament.
"You have to give credit to them," third baseman Adrian Morales said. "They made some plays and we didn't at the end of the game."
The Gamecocks will take on Georgia in Friday's second game which will start at approx. 7:30 p.m. ET. Colby Holmes will get the start for South Carolina.
Despite never leading, the Gamecocks remained in striking distance for the first eight innings. Left-hander Tyler Webb, who pitched well in relief, was still on the mound to start the ninth.
With Vanderbilt leading 3-2, Anthony Gomez led off the inning with a single through the right side. After Gomez took second on a passed ball Aaron Westlake then popped up a bunt but it still landed perfectly between first baseman Christian Walker and Scott Wingo.
After Jose Mata came in and got a pop out, USC turned to left-hander Bryan Harper against lefty Mike Yastrzemski. The Vanderbilt right-fielder put down the perfect squeeze bunt scoring Gomez and extending the lead to 4-2.
After an RBI single by Jason Esposito, Vanderbilt again went to the squeeze and perfectly executed it to go up 6-2 and essentially put the game out of reach.
"We usually like to sit back and watch our guys hit," Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said, "but we know we have something in our back pocket and it just felt like it was the right time to do it. It really worked well tonight."
Vanderbilt added another RBI single with two outs to stretch the lead to 7-2.
"That's what we were trying to set up for in the seventh, eighth and ninth," South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said of the close score before the ninth-inning Vandy explosion. "But that big ninth kind of did us in. We battled hard but they were the better team tonight."
Starter Sonny Gray took the win for Vanderbilt after pitching 6.1 innings while giving up five hits and two runs, one of which was earned. Forrest Koumas took the loss for Carolina. He gave up two first-inning runs (one earned) but did settle in eventually and gave up four hits and three runs (two earned) in 4.1 innings. Ultimately it was the four walks, a hit-by-pitch and a balk that hurt Koumas more than anything.
"We battled hard," Tanner said. "It was a tough match-up for us tonight with Sonny Gray against a freshman for us. We battled, for us it was kind of a tough start with the walks and hit-by-pitch."
Quality relief appearances from Webb, John Taylor and Mata gave USC an opportunity to win the game.
After Vanderbilt scored two in the first, a Jake Williams RBI groundout cut the lead in half in the second.
Vanderbilt extended the lead to 3-1 in the third but a Morales RBI single up the middle made it 3-2.
The Gamecocks had their best chance to take the lead when they loaded the bases in the seventh with two outs, but Wingo grounded into a fielder's choice to shortstop to end the inning. The Gamecocks also had the potential tying run at second in the eighth but an Evan Marzilli fly out to center ended the inning.
"They had the best pitcher, Sonny Gray, out there and he gave us some tough pitches," Morales said. "We are just going to battle, try to come back tomorrow and win."
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