USC sweeps Brown, Hempy solid in return

Hope for a great season and a return to the College World Series looked much brighter for Gamecock fans as ace pitcher Arik Hempy took the mound for the first time since he had major surgery on his pitching arm. Fans also got to see a pinch hitter hit a grand slam to take the game out of question, as USC closed out a three game home stand with a sweep against the Brown University Bears on Sunday.

Justin Smoak was poised to hit his third 3 run homer in three days against Brown, but Brown pitcher Jeff Dietz chose to walk the red-hot sophomore first baseman. Bad move. Pinch hitter Drew Martin promptly stole Smoak's thunder with a soaring grand slam home run to give #4 South Carolina an 8-4 lead in the bottom of the 7th inning and take the game out of question against the Bears. USC ended up winning by a final score of 9-4, and the sweep of the three game series improved their season record to 13-2.

"Drew came up big for us off the bench," Head Coach Ray Tanner said. "(Phil) Disher has been one of our better hitters all year, but Dietz had worked him over pretty good, so we gave Martin a chance. He swung the bat pretty good in his own right, so it worked out pretty well. You have to give Dietz credit, he pitched very well. We were prepared for how he pitches, and he was still successful, so you have to tip your hat to him."

Smoak still strengthened his case for SEC Player of the Week, adding two hits and two more RBIs to his weekend total of seven hits and eleven runs batted in.

Brown kept this one close through six and half innings and finally gave the weekend a little drama for the hometown Carolina crowd, but the Gamecock bats had more pop in them than the Bears could handle.

After outscoring Brown 24-3 in the first two games of the weekend, the biggest question for Sunday's game seemed to be not who would win the third game, but how Arik Hempy would do in his season debut on the mound, his first appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery last April. Hempy's performance on Sunday should reassure fans that he is back. In the first inning Hempy only needed 12 pitches to strike out the side. Hempy said, "In the first inning I threw mainly fast balls, but after I decided to calm down and realized I felt fine and I could pitch it, I didn't have to blow it by people, I started throwing more pitches and working on my curve ball a lot more." He left the field to a standing ovation from the home crowd.

On an intentionally limited pitch count, Hempy threw for 2 and 2/3 innings, giving up 3 hits, 4Ks, 2 walks and no runs. He threw a total of 48 pitches, 34 of them strikes. Tanner said, "I was excited to see him out there. I thought he pitched well. His fastball was pretty good today; he threw his changeup for strikes. For me it was an A+ today."

Hempy was not the only pitcher on a short pitch count. Head Coach Ray Tanner said earlier that this weekend would go a long way determining who his eight to ten pitchers who will get most of the playing time during conference play. "You've got to find your guys who will go for you throughout the SEC (season) and we're starting 15 to 16 right now. We've got to figure out who those guys are in the next five or six games."

For awhile Sunday, it looked like Tanner might end up using all his available pitchers. Curtis Johnson replaced Hempy, but only pitched one and 2/3 innings, allowing no hits, no runs (Johnson inherited a base runner when he took over for Hempy). He had three strikeouts on the five batters he faced; only one hit batter to mar a perfect outing.

In the bottom of the 5th, Andrew Crisp singled to right center, and then Travis Jones followed that up with a run scoring double to put USC up 3-1 at that point. In the 6th inning Smoak added to his strong weekend with another hit, and then catcher Trent Kline sent Smoak home to add another run to cushion the lead 4-1.

Will Atwood was brought in to replace Johnson on the mound. Atwood is expected to be a starter for the Gamecock this season and kept the game in control through his first two innings pitched, but he allowed Brown to load the bases in the top of the 7th. After striking out Brian Kelaher, Atwood allowed a run scoring deep out, and was then replaced by Sean Wideberg, who allowed two RBIs to tie the score on a base hit by pitcher Jeff Dietz. Jordan Costner was promptly called in to replace Wideberg and stem the bleeding, and he did, striking out Bryan Tews to end the inning.

"Seems like I was wearing out a path to the mound today." Tanner said. "Costner did a nice job for us. Atwood scuffled that one inning, but he had some nice outs for as well. Costner certainly did his job today."

With the game now tied, the USC fans at Sarge Frye Field may have had a moment's anxiety as the Gamecock offense came up to bat in the bottom of the 7th inning, but three base runners and a grand slam later everyone wearing garnet and black were all smiles once again. Travis Jones brought the Gamecock fans to their feet sliding into third on a run scoring triple in the bottom of the eighth to notch the ninth and final run of the day for USC.

USC will face Appalachian State at home on Tuesday and Wednesday, before opening SEC play also at home against perennial contender LSU for a three game series.

PLAY AND PLAYER OF THE GAME: Martin's grand slam in the 7th inning that instantly doubled the number of runs for the day and ended any suspense as to who the winning team would be.

NOTES: Hempy will not face Appalachian State in the two mid-week games. SEC rules limits activated players to 25 for a weekend, and Tanner was unsure whether Hempy would be activated for this weekend's series with LSU due to the fact that the team could not get a "whole lot of innings out of him" yet as he comes back from the surgery.

Lonnie Chisenhall and Blake Cooper are expected to be the starting pitchers for the two games against Appalachian State this week. Chisenhall has been a strong addition to the team, and the true freshman has been the starting 3rd baseman, but this will be his first start as a pitcher.

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