'Senior citizens' extend Gamecocks stay

HOOVER, Ala -- Senior left-hander Michael Roth pitched 6 1/3 innings and gave up just a single earned run as veteran closer Matt Price gave up just a run in the final 2 2/3 innings to steer South Carolina to a 5-3 victory over Auburn Thursday night at the SEC Tournament.

South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner joked following the game that he put this one in the hands of his senior citizens.

The Gamecocks' veterans delivered a 5-3 victory over Auburn Thursday evening at the SEC Tournament as South Carolina avoided elimination and an 0-2 showing.

Senior left-hander Michael Roth provided the steady guiding force he has for much of his career and surrendered just an earned run in 6 2/3 of an inning. He gave way to redshirt junior closer Matt Price, who gave up just a run and struck out four to earn the save and send the Tigers packing.

South Carolina improves to 4-0 on the season against Auburn and to 36-9 overall since last losing a series to the Tigers in 1997.

The Gamecocks improved to 40-16 on the season marking the 13th straight season they've had 40 or more wins.

Roth set the tone early as he faced the minimum through the first four innings, thanks partially to a pickoff at first and Grayson Greiner throwing out another runner trying to steal second.

Roth finished with five strikeouts and surrendered seven hits. He didn't walk a batter.

"I was really hitting spots pretty well," Roth said. "I had really good fastball command, and for me that's crucial in order to get some outs."

Roth got plenty of run support in the first five innings as the Gamecocks struck for five early runs. But the Tigers struck back for a run in both the fifth and sixth innings. After Roth gave up back-to-back singles and a sacrifice bunt to start the seventh, Tanner turned to Price.

Price struck out the first batter he faced and induced a groundout to LB Dantzler to end the inning without allowing a run.

"Coming in in that situation, you want to strike the guy out, but you also want to control the damage," Price said. "Had a runner on second and third, one out, and I tried to get maybe a ground ball to the corner and hold them. But I ended up striking the guy out and LB made a good play."

Facing elimination, and with little chance of making the NCAA Tournament, Auburn didn't lay down despite facing a 5-0 deficit at one time. The Tigers cut the lead to 5-3 with another run in the eighth.

Ryan Tella doubled to right with two outs and Justin Bryant singled through the left side to score him. But Price got Patrick Savage to fly out to end the inning.

South Carolina scored a run in each of its first two at-bats off of Auburn starter Cory Luckie, who took the loss and gave up two earned runs in just two innings of work.

Joey Pankake led off the game with a double to right when Jay Gonzalez couldn't make a diving grab. After Evan Marzilli sacrificed Pankake to third, Christian Walker's fly ball to deep center allowed Pankake to tag up and score.

In the second inning, Adam Matthews singled with one out in the inning then took second on a passed ball. Designated hitter Erik Payne doubled to bring him in and put the Gamecocks up 2-0.

South Carolina tacked on two more in the fourth when Dantzler, Greiner and Matthews all singled to start the inning. Matthews' shot through the left side put Carolina up 3-0. Later in the inning, Pankake walked with the bases loaded to extend the lead to 4-0.

Greiner's two out double down the left field line in the fifth set the table for Matthews to bring him in on a single to right. It was Matthews' -- another one of Tanner's senior citizens -- third hit and second RBI of the game.

"I don't want to jinx myself, but I hope I can just continue to do that," Matthews said. "My goal is just to go up there and have a good at-bat, see some pitches, but use the whole field. Today I hit a couple hits the other way, it's just about going out there and trying to stay positive."

Auburn pitchers Justin Bryant and Derek Varnadore were able to limit the damage as they combined to pitch 4.1 scoreless inning to hold the Gamecocks at bay and allow their team to chip away at the lead.

"I anticipated that whatever happened in the beginning, we were going to have our hands full with Varnadore and Bryant and Slade Smith coming into the game," Tanner said. "I thought they'd do a good job against us and they did, and they gave Auburn a chance."

The score would never get closer than 5-3 as Price pitched a 1-2-3 drama-free ninth inning to give South Carolina the win.

"We don't' approach an elimination game any differently than any other game," Roth said. "It's just nice to get a win in Hoover, we don't get too many of those, right?"

Dantzler and Greiner had two hits a piece.

South Carolina will try to get another win and continue its stay Friday when it faces the loser of Thursday's Florida/Vanderbilt game at approx. 7 p.m. ET. Colby Holmes will get the start for Carolina.

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