The Keydets weren't intimidated by the back-to-back national championship flag that was raised prior to the game, the multiple videos played celebrating the Gamecocks' recent accomplishments, or the ceremonial first pitches thrown out by former MVPs Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Scott Wingo. Or even by the 8,242-person strong sellout crowd that was on hand for the season opener.
The Gamecocks and Keydets' pitchers mowed down hitter after hitter – deadlocked in a 1-1 tie since the bottom of the third – before the defending champs eventually broke through with a two-out RBI single from LB Danztler that scored Evan Marzilli in the bottom of the eighth.
"It's pretty special," Dantzler said. "I'm just glad I could help the team win. That's always the most important thing, is getting the win, so I'll definitely remember it probably for the rest of my life."
Tyler Webb and Forrest Koumas combined to work a scoreless ninth and finish off the Keydets.
Webb entered the contest to start the seventh and provided 2.1 scoreless innings giving up just a hit and striking out four.
"It was good," head coach Ray Tanner said. "The mission today was to put the guys out there that had a little bit of experience. That was a part of going to Webb right away and then when he got the lefty [out] at the end we went back to the righty with Koumas and he made a couple of nice pitches as well."
All-American Michael Roth earned a no-decision but showed no signs of letting up from the remarkable pace he set a year ago as the Gamecocks' ace. Roth pitched six strong innings giving up just the single earned run on four hits. He didn't allow a walk and struck out six in 89 pitches.
But VMI (0-1) starter Coby Cowgill was game for the match-up giving up just a single unearned run and seven hits in seven innings pitched.
"I had been anticipating all week that Cowgill was going to be difficult," Tanner said. "He's a veteran guy, had some good games last year, I look at some of his boxes, and [today] he was very, very special."
South Carolina (1-0) found itself down 1-0 early as VMI pushed across a run in the bottom of the second. Designated hitter Cameron Walter blooped a single to left for VMI's first hit of the game with one out in the inning. Two batters later, Drew Bryan lined a ball into left field that freshman Tanner English got to on a dive but couldn't quite hold onto bringing the run home.
South Carolina answered to tie the game in the third when VMI had its own share of defensive miscues.
After a Marzilli single to center to give the Gamecocks' runners at first and second with two down, Cowgill's next pitch flew over the catcher's head allowing both runners to score. Then a passed ball by catcher Matt Winn scored Chase Vergason to tie the game.
That's where it stayed for the next four –plus innings.
South Carolina wasn't perfect defensively as newcomers third baseman Danztler, shortstop Joey Pankake and second baseman Vergason all had defensive miscues, though only one was considered an error. But Roth was able to work around the problems and they all three settled in as the game went along and were comfortable when it mattered most.
That was true at the plate, too. Much like last year's team – which got very used to playing low-scoring, close games – this group did what it had to do with the game on the line.
Marzilli, who was three-for-four at the plate, led off the eighth with a bunt for base hit towards the left side.
"The key there is just getting on base and getting that run across for the win," said Marzilli, who was originally looking towards the first base side but didn't get a pitch to pull the ball that way.
Adam Matthews bunted Marzilli over to second but Christian Walker popped up in the infield for the second out of the inning.
That set the stage for Dantzler. The JUCO transfer had nice at-bats all game but had yet to break through for a hit. He'll remember his first hit in the garnet and black for some time as he lined the two-strike pitch into center field scoring Marzilli easily.
"That was big," Tanner said. "He's a new player but he's comfortable with the bat in his hand and we threw him in the middle of the order right away. He's had a good preseason. ... But it was a big swing for us after being down in the count.
"It's great to see. I think those guys are good players. They're going to go through some growing pains but hopefully we'll be successful while they do.
After a bloop hit to right for VMI to start the ninth, Webb got his final out of the game before turning it over to Forrest Koumas.
On Koumas' first pitch, freshman catcher Grayson Greiner, who was two-for–three at the plate, threw a strike to second to catch pinch-runner Brandon Angus trying to steal. Koumas struck out Walter looking to end the game and earn his first save replacing All-American Matt Price in that role.
Price will get his first chance in his new role when he takes the mound as the Gamecocks starter in game-two of the three-game series Saturday.
Tanner says his line-up is pretty much set, but Dante Rosenberg will likely get the start Saturday at catcher with Friday's catcher, Greiner, getting the start at DH.
First pitch of Saturday's game was once scheduled for 1:30 but has been moved to a noon first pitch due to the threat of inclement weather.
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