USC One Victory Away From Super Regionals

Saturday's 5-2 victory over North Carolina in the winners bracket final not only continued USC's recent domination over the Tar Heels in the post-season but it also means South Carolina needs just one more win to advance to the Super Regional round of the NCAA Baseball Tournament. Steve Pearce sparked USC with a pair of homers Saturday, including a three-run blast in the first. Matt Campbell and Chad Blackwell combined to strikeout 14 Tar Heel batters.

The Road To Omaha just got a bit smoother for South Carolina.

USC battled back from an early two-run deficit to defeat North Carolina, 5-2, Saturday before 4,987 fans, most of them dressed in garnet and black, at sun-drenched Sarge Frye Field in the all-important winners bracket final of the NCAA Regionals.

The victory moves USC into Sunday's championship round. The Gamecocks face the survivor of The Citadel-UNC elimination game Saturday evening at 1:30 p.m. Sunday with the right to advance to the Super Regional round on the line.

Steven Pearce was the hitting star for USC on this day, clubbing a pair of homers and driving in four of USC's five runs. Kevin Melillo drove in the other run with a single.

As far as UNC is concerned, Sarge Frye Field has become a House of Horrors. The Tar Heels now need to win three games in a span of just over 24 hours to advance to the Super Regional.

USC starter Matt Campbell settled down after spotting UNC two runs in the 1st. He gave up only four harmless singles over the next 6.2 innings to silence the Tar Heel offense.

Chad Blackwell got the final four outs to record his 16th save of the season. He struckout three of the five batters to face him. Campbell and Blackwell combined for 14 strikeouts.

Campbell got the first two outs easily in the 1st before running into problems against the heart of the Tar Heel order. A live drive single to left and long home run to left-center gave UNC a quick 2-0 lead. After a walk, Campbell finally got out of the inning with a forceout at second.

It took six batters for USC to wipe out the lead and more against UNC freshman starter Daniel Bard. Steve Tolleson and Bryan Triplett started the USC 1st with singles to center and left, respectively. Powell worked the count to 2-2 before looking at strike three. Winn struck out swinging.

Just when it appeared Bard would get out of the jam, Melillo, who reached base five times Friday night, drove in Tolleson with a check-swing single through the hole into left. Pearce followed with a gigantic three-run homer, his 18th roundtripper of the season, to left-center that gave USC a 4-2 lead.

Both pitchers were stellar for the next two innings, retiring each side in order in the 2nd and 3rd.

Campbell had retired eight in a row before giving up a soft single up the middle with one out in the top of the 4th. But a strikeout and 6-4 forceout ended the inning.

Pearce walked with one out in the bottom of the 4th, becoming USC's first baserunner since the 1st. But he was wiped out on a 4-6-3 double play by Michael Campbell.

Singles to left (great play by Mark Stanley in the left field corner to hold the runner to one base) and center put two runners on with two outs in the 5th with the heart of the UNC order coming up. USC pitching coach Jerry Meyers came out for a visit to relax his junior lefthander. The strategy worked, as Campbell induced a 5-4 forceout from the always dangerous Chris Iannetta (UNC's No.3 hitter) for the third out.

Stanley worked a walk with one out in the bottom of the 5th with the top of the USC order due. Steven Tolleson singled up the middle to advance Stanley to second. However, Triplett hit a bullet right at the UNC third baseman, who stepped on the bag and threw to first for the easy doubleplay.

Campbell was in top form in the top of the 6th as he stared down UNC's 4-5-6 hitters and struck out the side with ease.

Powell walked to open the USC 6th, the first time the Gamecock leadoff hitter had reached. Curiously, Tanner called for Winn, the cleanup hitter, to bunt. He popped up to the UNC first baseman.

Melillo bounced into a 3-6 forceout, and barely beat the relay throw to first. Pearce walked to finish Bard. Campbell struckout to end the inning.

Campbell ran his strikeout streak to five by whiffing the first two Tar Heel batters in the UNC 7th. A single and error by Stanley in left put a runner into scoring position but a 4-3 roller ended the inning.

USC wasted a golden opportunity to add some insurance runs in the bottom of the 7th. After Mahoney walked to open the inning (and then replaced by pinch-runner Steven Reinhold), Stanley attoned for his error with a beautiful bunt into no-man's land between the pitchers mound and first. He reached first safely with a head first slide.

Tanner made another curious decision when he had Tolleson bunt with two strikes. He fouled off the next pitch for the first out. Triplett drove one to the warning track in right but it was caught for the third out. Powell fouled out to third to end the threat, and leave the Gamecock faithful shaking their heads.

More puzzled looks must have resulted when Melillo let an easy grounder roll through his legs into right. But Campbell bore down and pulled off a nearly impossible feat, striking out Iannetta and Hubbard for the first two outs.,

After Campbell missed outside on the first pitch to the next UNC batter, Tanner made the decision to go with Chad Blackwell. Blackwell walked the first batter before striking out pinch-hitter Mike Daniel, who had a key hit in UNC's 9th-inning rally against Coastal Carolina Friday.

After the first two USC batters (Winn, Melillo) struckout in the bottom of the 8th, Steve Pearce hit his second homer of the game, and third of the regional, when he lofted one over the left-center field fence for a solo homer. The solo shot gave USC a key insurance run heading into the 9th.

Blackwell, as most closers do, made it mildly interesting in the 9th by surrendering a leadoff single. But, with the crowd roaring on every pitch, he struckout the next two batters before getting the final out on a flyout to center.

REGIONAL NOTES: USC is now 5-1 against UNC in the NCAA Tournament in the last three years, and 6-1 overall if you count the regular season game at Fort Mill, SC in early May. All of the post-season games have been played in Columbia . .USC is 15-2 in NCAA Regional games since 2000.. . .Steven Pearce had his second multi-homer game of the season. Pearce has 19 HR on the season to tie for the team lead with Landon Powell. It was the seventh multi-homer game by a USC player this season. . .USC has five homers in the first two games of the Regional. . .Matt Campbell had given up only four homers in 99.2 IP this season before surrendering a HR in the 1st. . . Campbell tied his season high with 11 strikeouts. . .Campbell threw 112 pitches, 75 for strikes. . .Chad Blackwell is now third on the single season saves list with 16. . .USC has won seven games in a row. . . The Citadel walloped Coastal Carolina, 10-1, in the first losers bracket elimination game Saturday. CCU never recovered after giving up two runs in the bottom of the 9th to UNC Friday.


USC HEAD COACH RAY TANNER: "This was definitely the type of game I expected it to be. Matt Campbell looked very good on the mound. We were able to respond to the early deficit with the four runs in the bottom of the first. That says a lot about this team. This was anybody's game today." (On USC's pitching staff) "The two guys we threw today can really pitch. Campbell has a lot of pitches, and when he's on he is as good as anybody in the country. Blackwell has some great pitches that are hard to pick up. I'm not surprised to know they struck out a lot of North Carolina batters. They do it game in and game out."

UNC HEAD COACH MIKE FOX: "You have to play a perfect game here to win. I'm proud of the way our guy pitched today. Daniel Bard settled down and did a good job. South Carolina played exceptionally well." (On playing at Sarge Frye Field): "It is a huge advantage for them, no question about it. South Carolina would be good anywhere but they are that much better at home. The crowd was not a factor. Matt Campbell and Chad Blackwell were the factors." Our gameplan against Campbell was to lay off the breaking pitches until there were two strikes. But it's really hard to lay off before two strikes. He pitched exceptionally well." LINESCORE

UNC – 200 000 000 = 2-7-1

USC – 400 000 01x = 5-7-2

WP- Matt Campbell (9-4)

LP- Daniel Bard (8-4)

SAVE-Chad Blackwell (16).

HR- USC, Steve Pearce 2 (1st, two on; 8th, none on); UNC, Marshall Hubbard (1st, one on).



Remaining Regional Schedule:

Sat 7:00 p.m. – Game 5: The Citadel v. North Carolina Sun. 1:30 p.m. – South Carolina v. The Citadel/UNC Winner Sun. 5:30 p.m. – South Carolina v. The Citadel/UNC (If Nec.)

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