Hempy makes case for SEC play in10-0 rout

Ray Tanner could not have scripted it better - he wanted pitcher Arik Hempy to throw his best stuff and prove he's through with rehab and ready to return to USC's SEC rotation. For five innings, USC maintained a narrow 1-0 lead, and Furman kept the pressure on the USC pitcher to prevent them from scoring and taking the lead. He responded by pitching five scoreless innings in his best game of '07.

An inning later the USC bats took away the drama with a five-run sixth inning, and cruised to a 10-0 shutout over the visiting Paladins.

Hempy had been limited to pitch counts of 50 pitches prior to Wednesday night's game as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. Against Furman he pitched his longest stint of the year, throwing 77 pitches and holding the Paladins to just two hits, while striking out a season-high five batters and walking just two. Hempy is now 2-0 on the year. Tanner spoke about Hempy's performance: "I thought it was a good performance for him. I told him, 'We did our rehab assignments, now we're into the performance phase, so you need to show us a little bit out there.' I wasn't trying to put any pressure on him, but I was just trying to get him to pitch with a little more awareness, and if he felt good, turn it loose a little bit. And I thought he did. He was pretty good."

When asked if the performance gets him into the SEC the next week, Tanner smiled when he said, "I don't know. I'll have to re-evaluate it. We've got a mid-week game next week, and then we go into the weekend here against Auburn. So certainly good enough for some consideration. We'll make a decision whether to keep him in the mid-week one more time, or get him on the weekend."

When asked about how he felt, Hempy said, "Everything felt good. The fastball was working good. I had command of the change-up early, and it stayed with me the whole game. The curve ball was sharp. I was throwing everything for strikes. I felt as strong as I did before the surgery. I am still working on my speed. I was happy with my performance."

South Carolina improved to 24-6 with the win, while the loss drops the visitors from the upstate to 8-20 on the year. Wednesday's game was the fifth shutout of the year for the Gamecocks and the 11th time this season that USC has scored at least 10 runs.

USC returns to action this weekend for a three-game SEC series in Gainesville at league-leading Florida, with the first pitch set for 7:30 pm Friday night.

The Gamecocks went ahead 1-0 in the second inning when Andrew Crisp scored on an RBI sacrifice fly from Travis Jones. Though the Furman starting pitcher was chased in the second inning, the Paladins bullpen kept the game close until the sixth inning. Drew Martin started the inning with a leadoff walk and advanced to third base when Travis Jones singled. Reese Havens then hit the first of three doubles in the inning to score Martin. Harley Lail hit the next double to score both Jones and Havens. James Darnell then added a single, and catcher Trent Kline scored another run with a sacrifice fly to make it 5-0. Justin Smoak then extended his hitting streak to 11 games when he hit a two-run double to put Carolina ahead 6-0.

South Carolina scored twice more and increased the lead to 8-0 in the seventh inning. Kline joined the double parade and collected an RBI double, then scored himself on a passed ball, the second of the night for Furman. South Carolina extended it to 10-0 in the eighth inning as Jones added his own RBI double followed by an RBI single from Havens. Havens finished 3-for-5 for the Gamecocks, and Lail and Jones had two hits apiece.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Arik Hempy. He looked like the pitcher he was last season prior to his injury - one who could keep a close game in command and win it for his team. He threw his best game of the season thus far, throwing 5 Ks and holding Furman to two hits.

KEY MOMENT: The sixth inning five-run rally.

NOTES: Tanner said pitcher Mike Cisco will not travel with the Gamecocks to Florida. He made the same decision earlier in the year with Friday night starter Harris Honeycutt, whose performance improved markedly after a break, so Cisco will take the weekend off. Will Atwood is the most likely candidate to start Saturday, though Tanner said they have discussed moving current Sunday starter Blake Cooper up to Saturday and throw the new starter on Sunday.

Sunday's USC-Florida game will be nationally televised by ESPN at 1 p.m.

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