Rawl Tosses Vawls Into Looooooooosers' Barrel

In a real cock fight, outside of a cock pit there's a place for the losers, it's called the "loser barrel." It's the place where losers of fights are thrown. Most combatants die in the ring, but some are tossed in the barrel with a trace of life remaining. Very few are removed and nursed back to health in order to live and fight another day. Tennessee is there now, Aaron Rawl put them there ...

Aaron Rawl fought the Tennessee Volunteers tonight with 90 MPH fast balls and wicked curve balls that were breaking a foot as they crossed the plate for strikes. Chad Blackwell had pro scouts talking to one another in amazement as they clocked his side armed fast balls at 92 MPH, his change ups at 80 MPH and his version of a nasty curve ball at 78 MPH. Rawl tossed Tennessee into the SEC Championship losers' bracket by allowing only 4 hits and one run in eight innings of pitching in route to a 5-1 win for the Gamecocks. The wounded Vols were then handed-over to Chad Blackwell who proceeded to stuff them deeper into the barrel by striking out the first two batters he faced. With runners on first and second and no outs in the ninth, Blackwell had something the Vols couldn't handle. He then got the last batter to pop up to short stop Steve Tolleson for the final out. Game over. Match Won! SC is now 2-0 for their first time in SEC baseball tournament history.

Ole Miss and LSU were eliminated from the tourney earlier in the day by Arkansas and Georgia respectively. Florida and Tennessee now join the Razorbacks and Bulldogs in the losers' bracket and each will now play Friday for a chance to stay alive against unbeatens Vandy and South Carolina.

Winning an SEC tournament is almost always done by staying out of the third game and therefore having fresh pitching and players to go at it in the forth game - in other words, by staying in the winners' bracket. Coach Ray Tanner's Gamecocks are now in that enviable position and will rest today before playing the survivor of the Arkansas/Tennessee game on Saturday.

The Gamecocks scored two runs in the second and fifth innings and added some insurance in the eight with an unearned run. Tennessee crossed the plate once in the fifth, but it would prove to be their only touch of the plate on the night. USC has now beaten Tennessee four times in as many face-offs this year.

Kevin Melillo was down 0-2 in the count when he led off in the second inning. But he battled back to a full count and then drew a walk from starting pitcher Craig Cobb. With one out, Tanner called a hit and run … and Michael Campbell delivered a clutch single. Tennessee third baseman Kyle Norrid saw Campbell racing for second as Merlillo was safe at third and he threw wild to second baseman Eric King allowing Merlillo to score and Campbell to advance to third. Then center fielder Davy Gregg smacked a line drive single between first and second base to score Campbell for what would prove to be all the runs the gamecocks needed to win this all important game.

Melillo would do more than score a run in this game. In the top of the third inning, an error at short stop by Steven Tolleson on an Eric King grounder was followed by back to back singles by Tennessee's left fielder Eli Iorg and center fielder Josh Alley. The based were loaded with two outs when designated hitter Alex Suarez smashed a line drive that looked to be a base hit to the right side of the field. Melillo made an incredible diving catch that saved two or more runs and ended the potential rally. Melillo did the hat trick in the next inning when he leaped high in the air to his right and robbed Tennessee right fielder Rob Fitzgerald of a single with a runner on first and one out. After the catch, he quickly gained his composure and fired the ball to first to double up Tennessee's base runner, third baseman Kyle Norrid, who had been hit by a pitched ball prior to the defensive gem.

Tennessee would score its lone run in the top of the fifth by a double from the bat of short stop Brian Cleveland followed by a single by catcher Kelly Edmundson. South Carolina answered with two more runs in the fifth after Carolina short stop Steven Tolleson hit a stand up double down the left field line followed by a two out double by Landon Powell down the right field line that was mishandled by the Tennessee right fielder Rob Fitzgerald allowing Powell to reach third base. Brendan Winn then crushed a towering shot to right center field … a blast that traveled 395 feet in the air and allowed him to easily reach third base with a triple. Melillo then grounded out to first to end the inning with the gamecocks leading 4-1.

Rawl handled the volunteers easily in the sixth, seventh and eight innings. He would finish the game with seven strike outs and threw just under 100 pitches. After walking the first batter and then hitting the next in the ninth inning, Coach Jerry Myers called the bull pen for closer Chad Blackwell. Blackwell, as mentioned earlier, drew quite some attention from the scouts attending the game. He was on and it's hard to believe any team could have hit him tonight with the stuff he was showing Tennessee's batters.

Carolina had scored one more run in the bottom of the eight after Brendan Winn was hit by a pitch followed by a sacrifice bunt by Kevin Melillo moving him to second. A wild pitch allowed him to advance to third and then with two outs Michael Campbell struck out and ran towards first base after Tennessee catcher Kelly Edmundson dropped the ball. Edmundson hesitated to throw … then lobbed the ball high to first baseman Chris Kemp and Campbell was safe as Winn crossed the plate with an unearned insurance run making it 5-1 gamecocks.

Saturday's pitcher to be Billy Buckner

Gamecock Nation briefly interviewed gamecock pitching coach Jerry Myers prior to tonight's game. Coach Myers said " Billy is feeling good but he needs another day's rest and will pitch Saturday " When asked if Buckner might pitch should the gamecocks lose coach Myers stated that "he would not pitch on Friday if the Gamecocks had to play that game". Given the fact that the Aaron Rawl and Chad Blackwell literally tossed Tennessee into the loser's barrel … that game won't be played and we need not speculate who will pitch. It will be Billy Buckner on Saturday against either Arkansas or Tennessee.

Coaches Myers and Toman were working overtime Wednesday during the 13 inning Tennessee verses Arkansas game that lasted until after midnight. Unlike coaches from other SEC teams that returned to hotels … Myers and Toman were scouting the Tennessee and Arkansas players and stayed until the game was over.

Make no mistake about it … this Gamecock baseball team is the best coached and most talented team in the SEC tourney this year. Look for another SEC foe to get tossed into that barrel before these fighting gamecocks meet that kind of fate. They are looking like winners from top to bottom. They've played and fought themselves into a great position to win it all before moving on to regional play. But first things first. There is still room in that barrel for five more. My guess is that it gets filled by Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Vanderbilt … not South Carolina.

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