USC Pounds The Citadel In Opening Round NCAA Game

South Carolina had an impressive start to the NCAA tournament Friday, blasting The Citadel, 12-4, behind three home runs, including unlikely shots by Ryan Mahoney and Mark Stanley. The victory propeled the Gamecocks into a Border War with the North Carolina Tar Heels Saturday for the right to advance to Sunday's regional championship round.

The NCAA first-round regional game between intrastate rivals South Carolina and The Citadel Friday night had a predictable outcome.

USC won.

The Gamecocks had three homers, including a pair of three-run shots by Steve Pearce and, surprise, Mark Stanley, to trounce the Bulldogs, 12-4, Friday night before 5,227 fans at steamy Sarge Frye Field.

The victory moved USC into the winners bracket final against North Carolina, a 6-5 winner over Coastal Carolina in the first game of the day, on Saturday at 3:00 p.m., and maintained the Gamecocks' history of dominance over The Citadel in baseball.

The Citadel will face Coastal Carolina in the losers bracket elimination game Saturday at 11:00 a.m. The winner of that game will play the loser of the USC-UNC contest at 7:00 p.m. Saturday.

After a sluggish start both at the plate and in the field (two errors in the first three innings), the Gamecocks cranked it up in the middle innings, scoring twice in the 4th and four times in the 6th to take an insurmountable 8-2 lead.

USC added four more runs in the 7th before The Citadel closed out the scoring with a pair of solo homers in the 8th.

USC starter Aaron Rawl (7.0 IP, 9 hits, 3 runs, 8 K) was knocked around a bit early but recovered nicely to retire eight in a row in one tidy stretch to get credit for the victory. Cliff Donald got the last six outs.

Rawl, working quickly as always, retired the Citadel easily in the 1st on a groundout to third and two strikeouts. USC, though, couldn't muster a thing against Bulldogs starter Ken Egleton in the bottom of the 1st. Landon Powell struckout looking for the third out.

Both clubs pushed across a run in the 2nd. The first hit of the game came when The Citadel's leadoff batter in the top of the 2nd singled up the middle. He was sacrificed to second before the Bulldogs got on the board with two outs on a throwing error by Kevin Melillo (3-for-3, 4 runs) when he threw high to first. The ball sailed over Rawl's head and sailed toward the Citadel dugout (the home team in the NCAA Tournament sits in the third base dugout) as the runner scored.

Melillo became USC's first baserunner when he walked with one out. He advanced to second on Pearce's high chopper to third. Campbell looped an opposite-field double to left that scored Melillo with the game-tying run. Ryan Mahoney struckout looking for the third out.

Melillo's rough beginning in the field continued when he misplayed a grounder by The Citadel's first batter in the 3rd. Rawl struckout the Bulldog's next batter before a single to center put runners on the corners with one out. It appeared USC centerfielder Davy Gregg had a shot to throw out the Bulldog runner racing to third but he pulled up and lobbed the ball into second.

Just when it looked like the Citadel was on the verge of taking the lead, Brendan Winn made one of the best throws of the season by a USC outfielder. He caught a ball in medium right-center and fired a one-hop strike to Powell to nail the Citadel runner at the plate.

The play seemed to provide a spark to the Gamecocks' bats. After Davy Gregg walked to open the Gamecock 3rd, Bryan Triplett gave USC a 2-1 lead with a double into the left-center that carried to the wall. Gregg, maybe the fastest player on the team, scored standing up from first.

Powell grounded out to first to advance Triplett to third. Winn flied out to center to strand the runner.

The Citadel wasted little time knotting the score in the top of the 4th, as a double into the right field corner and a line drive single to left produced a run.

A 5-4 forceout at second and single to center put runners on the corners with one out for the Bulldogs. After a swinging bunt loaded the bases, Rawl got the second out on a fly to short left. The Citadel runner smartly stayed at third as Campbell's throw reached home on the fly.

The next batter drove one to deep center but Gregg used his outstanding speed to get to the ball and make the catch and prevent three runs from scoring. All in all, USC was fortunate to get out of the inning giving up only one run.

Melillo opened the USC 4th with a single to right. After nearly getting picked off, he advanced to second on a bouncer to third by Campbell. Ryan Mahoney (2-for-4, 2 runs, 3 RBI), who had only one homer in 94 AB during the regular season, sent the worshippers into a frenzy with a line drive homer to right that took but a split second to get out of the park. The two-out, two-run shot gave USC a 4-2 lead.

Rawl settled down in the 5th, retiring the Bulldogs in order on a pair of groundouts and a strikeout. It was the first 1-2-3 inning for the junior righthander since the 1st. USC also went down in order in the bottom of the inning, as, except for Mahoney's homer and the doubles by Triplett and Campbell, the Gamecocks continued to struggle a bit at the plate (four hits through five innings).

Rawl's streak reached eight in a row with a perfect 6th (K, P-5, 4-3).

USC used the long ball and some shoddy Bulldog defense to break it open with four runs in the 6th. Winn started the rally with a walk. Melillo laid down a nice bunt between the pitchers mound and first that went for a single, his second hit of the game. Pearce launched a towering three-run homer to left-center that gave USC a 7-2 lead and finished The Citadel starter Ken Egleton.

There was a scary moment when Davy Gregg was hit in the helmet by a pitch. Gregg crumpled to the ground, where he laid for a couple of minutes before being escorted off the field under his own power. He was taken to the hospital for precautionary X-rays. Gregg is expected to be okay.

Pinch-runner Mark Stanley scored when the Citadel rightfielder botched a short fly by Tolleson, who ended up at second. Tolleson went to third on a wild pitch. Triplett walked to put runners on the corners with two outs. Powell struckout to end the uprising.

Rawl's streak of 8 in a row ended with a leadoff single in top of the 7th. After a pair of strikeouts, an infield single (wide throw to first) gave The Citadel two baserunners. After a visit from USC pitching coach Jerry Meyers, Rawl threw a pitch low in the dirt. The Citadel runners tried to advance, but the runner going from first to second overslid the bag and was tagged out for the final out.

USC added a run, making it 9-2, in the 7th on a run-scoring single to left by Mahoney. Mark Stanley, who entered the game in the 6th as a pinch-runner for Gregg, then hammered a dramatic, no-doubt-it, three-run homer to left-center that brought the gleeful masses to their feet. Stanley pumped his fist as he rounded the bases in celebration of his first career homer.

Rawl was lifted after surrendering a leadoff solo homer in the top of the 8th. Cliff Donald came on and quickly registered two outs on fly balls before another sole homer cut the lead to 12-4.

Donald, making his first post-season appearance of the year, finished up in the 9th to complete the victory.



REGIONAL NOTES: The Citadel actually outhit USC, 11-10. The difference was that six of USC's hits went for extra bases. . .USC leads the all-time series against The Citadel, 110-43-1. . .Rawl tied his season high with eight strikeouts. . .He has struckout 16 over his last 15 IP. . .Winn picked up his 5th assist of the season when he gunned down The Citadel runner from rightfield in the 3rd. . .Ryan Mahoney's homer in the 4th was his second roundtripper of the season. His other homer came 4/7 v. Clemson. . .His two RBI tied a career high. . .Pearce's shot was his 17th homer of the season. . .USC's 12 runs were the most the Gamecocks have scored in a single game since 5/16 v. Tennessee. . .USC is 24-2 against nonconference opponents this season. . .Kevin Melillo had three hits Friday to tie his career high. . .UNC scored twice in the bottom of the 9th Friday to nip Coastal Carolina, 6-5. The Tar Heels trailed 5-1 in the 5th before rallying. . .Seven players had one hit apiece for UNC. . .UNC had only four hits until the 9th. . .This year marks the 20th time USC has participated in the NCAA Tournament, the fifth time in eight seasons under Ray Tanner. . .This years marks the 10th time USC has hosted a regional. USC has won eight of the previous nine regionals held in Columbia. . .Landon Powell is one of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award given annually to the best catcher in Division I college baseball.

QUOTES:

The Citadel head coach Fred Jordan: "I thought South Carolina was very good tonight. They have a swagger to them and they are a very special ball club. I thought the turning point was Davy Gregg's catch in the fourth inning." (On Brendan Winn's throw in the 3rd): "The ballpark was electric tonight. We were trying to get some runs and gain some momentum and they made a great throw from the outfield." USC Head Coach Ray Tanner: "I thought this game was a lot closer than the final score indicates. I though Egleton (Citadel starter) was about to settle down there. He came out and pitched very strong at the beginning for them. The Winn assist from right field to get their kid at home was huge for us. The Mahoney homer was huge for us offensively. Pearce's homer was a big help. I don't have any oxygen left in me. I am out of breath."

LINESCORE

CIT – 010 100 020 = 4-11-1

USC – 011 204 40x = 12-10-2

WP-Aaron Rawl (12-4)

LP-Ken Egleton (8-3)

SAVE-None.

HR- USC, Ryan Mahoney (4th, one on), Steve Pearce (6th, two on), Mark Stanley (7th, two on); The Citadel, Josh Stackley (8th, none on), Mark Egleton (8th, none on)

TIME-2:21.

A-5,227.

Saturday's Schedule: 11:00 a.m. – Game 3: Coastal Carolina v. The Citadel (Loser Eliminated)

3:00 p.m. – Game 4: South Carolina v. North Carolina

7:00 p.m. – Game 5: Winner Game 3 v. Loser Game 4 (Loser Eliminated).

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