Three weeks ago, ninth-ranked South Carolina sat at 1-5 in SEC play after being swept by Kentucky and dropping two of three to Florida. After Sunday's 6-4 victory over Mississippi State, the Gamecocks have their first conference sweep of the season and are now above .500 in conference play, improving to 27-10 and 8-7 in the SEC. Mississippi State drops to 21-15 and 5-10 in SEC play.
"It was a big weekend," Evan Marzilli said. "Mississippi State is a great team and we had to come out and win some games this weekend. I thought we did a good job doing that and I was happy for us. We made some big strides this weekend."
Colby Holmes was brilliant for the second straight start, following up last week's performance against Tennessee by pitching into the ninth inning to earn the win and move to 5-0 on the season. Holmes finished the day going 8.1 innings, giving up eight hits and four runs while striking out three and not walking a batter for the second straight outing.
"He was really good today," Tanner said. "I thought his stuff was good all day long. He never issued a base on balls. Even at the end he gave up a single on a changeup to Norris and then Porter placed the ball in the corner. It was big for us to get a quality outing on the third day when we knew Price probably could not go and Webb was limited. He gave us an opportunity to win. It was a tremendous outing."
Marzilli tripled to begin the third inning and was brought home on a groundout to second by Christian Walker to score the first run of the game.
Mississippi State took the lead in the fifth with some controversy and a defensive miscue. Mitch Slauter singled with one out and advanced to third on Hunter Renfroe's double. Tyler Fullerton grounded it back to Holmes on a slow roller in front of the plate. Holmes tossed it to Dante Rosenberg, but Slauter was called safe on a high tag. An irate Tanner ran out of the Gamecock dugout and got into a heated argument with home plate umpire Mark Chapman.
"In this league it's give a punch take a punch," Tanner said. "There's a lot of good teams and the thirty games go a lot of different directions and we have to respond. We've had some adversity and we've bounced back a little bit. You have plays throughout the game that you have to deal with. I thought the guy was out at the plate. I just saw the player fighting to score when Dante was tagging him so that gave me the indication that maybe he didn't reach the plate. That's baseball. We battled back and played hard today and well enough to win."
Tanner, who was complimentary of Chapman's experience that includes College World Series games, seriously debated intentionally getting the third ejection in his 16-year career at South Carolina.
"Quite honestly, I don't do this very often," Tanner said. "When I went to home plate it crossed my mind I thought this might be a good opportunity to exit stage left. As I was standing there and voicing my displeasure with the call, I really did. Not because of the umpire; he's a really good umpire. Just thinking maybe this is a good chance for me to leave today and see how my team responds. It crossed my mind for the right reasons, not the wrong reasons. That's just the way it goes. It doesn't cross my mind very often, but it did today.
"My players probably would have enjoyed that," Tanner laughed.
Holmes still appeared to be able to get out of the jam when Sam Frost hit it back to the mound. Holmes threw to second for the first out, but Joey Pankake's throw to first was high, allowing Renfroe to score and give the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead.
The lead would not last long as the Gamecocks would respond to Tanner's emotion.
Carolina loaded the bases in their half of the fifth with one out. LB Dantzler hit a roller to third that could have resulted in a double play, but Daryl Norris couldn't handle it and everyone was safe to tie the game at 2-2 as Tanner English scored on the play. Brison Celek hit a deep to right field to score Evan Marzilli and advance Christian Walker to third. Walker would score on an infield single by Adam Matthews as Adam Frazier's throw to first pulled Wes Rea off the bag.
"We all know Coach has our back," Marzilli said. "I guess it wasn't a matter of that, it was more a matter of us having to go win this game. We had some opportunities earlier we needed to capitalize on. I thought that inning we learned from our mistakes and made some adjustments. It was a big inning for us."
The Gamecocks would add two huge insurance runs in the eighth. Grayson Greiner led off the inning with a double and Chase Vergason walk. After Tanner English advanced the runners, Pankake bounced one up the middle and past the drawn-in infield to score both runs and give Carolina a 6-2 lead.
That – and the fact that closer Matt Price was unavailable and number one reliever Tyler Webb was limited – would allow Holmes to return to the mound in the ninth, but was clearly out of gas.
Norris led off the inning with a hard-hit single and Trey Porter followed with a double down the right field line. After Holmes struck out Rea, Mitch Slauter singled on the infield to end the day for Holmes.
"The biggest thing is that I've gotten my changeup working early," Holmes said. "I've been able to throw it for strikes and make them chase. The changeup is probably the biggest thing that's helped contributed to my wins in my last two starts."
Tyler Webb would get the final two outs to pick up his second save of the season to give the Gamecocks their seventh win in their last nine conference games.
"I feel like our team is starting to mesh together a little more," Marzilli said. "A bunch of guys had to learn a lot of things and we had to learn how to play with each other and know our roles. It was a good weekend for us in that aspect."
Carolina, who was once at the bottom of the conference, now finds itself in sole possession of third in the SEC East and tied with Arkansas for fourth overall in the conference.
"I just think we're getting better swings off," Tanner said. "That's been the key. You've got to be aggressive. That's, for me, the difference between we were are now and where we're we've been. We've just been attacking a little bit better. We're fortunate to be where we are today."
Carolina hosts College of Charleston Tuesday before traveling to the Plains for another key conference clash with Auburn. Now that the Gamecocks are above .500 in conference play, the pressure lessens a bit.
"Going into today's game there seemed to be guys that can breathe a little bit easier," Tanner said. "We went to Kentucky, who we all know has a great club, and we lost those one-run games and three-run game and we're playing uphill. Finally today we got over the .500 mark. I think it does help a little bit where you can relax a little bit and not feel so much pressure all the time. We have five series left and it's not going to be easy. We're mixed up with everybody else now. For a while we were looking up and now we're sort of in the mix with a bunch of teams."
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