USC Hammers Auburn In Sunday Rubber Match

After splitting a pair of lopsided games on Friday and Saturday, the Gamecocks hosted Auburn in the rubber match of their weekend series on Sunday afternoon. With howling winds making every fly ball an adventure, Carolina slugged their way to another blowout, 18-4.


On a weekend where rain wrecked havoc on baseball games throughout the southeast, the Gamecocks were fortunate to stay dry. However, that does not mean Mother Nature didn't make her presence felt on Sunday. Pleasant conditions at first pitch quickly became miserable. A steady wind of over 30 mph caused fly balls hit to right field to end up in center field, and blew in a ferocious cold snap. The temperature was about 75 degrees when the game started, but by the 6th inning, it had dropped 20 degrees and was making life miserable for the crowd of 4,664.

The harsh conditions changed the way the teams approached the game and added a degree of luck to the proceedings. "We had a few balls that just blew all over the place," said Coach Ray Tanner after his team's victory. "I told Coach [Mark] Calvi before the game, the team that strikes out the most today loses, just because you've got to put balls in play. This was a very difficult circumstance to play in today."

The Gamecocks struck first, scoring five runs in the second inning. Harley Lail hit a 2 RBI single that scored Cheyne Hurst and Reese Havens. James Darnell capped off the inning with a three run homer. "We wanted to go after them and get them after [Friday night], because nobody wants to lose that way," Darnell said. When asked what it was like to come up with some big hits, he said, "It feels great anytime you're swinging the bat that good."

Auburn battled back and eventually closed to within a run. Mike Bianucci hit a 2 run homer in the fourth to get the Tigers on the board. In the top of the fifth, a throwing error on Carolina helped Auburn add two more runs. Going into the bottom of the inning, it looked like the two teams would finally put together a close game.

The Gamecocks had other ideas, though, and responded with a huge inning. Darnell started the inning by reaching base on an error. A single and a walk later, Auburn uncorked a wild pitch to score Darnell, and the rout was on. Phil Disher scored two more runs off a single, and Reese Havens added another run with two outs. That set the table for the hottest player in garnet and black, Travis Jones. The standout JUCO transfer stayed true to form and blasted a three run homer to cap off the inning. In all, 11 men came to the batter's box, and 7 of them crossed home plate, giving way to a 12-4 lead.

The Gamecocks came right back and added four runs in the sixth inning. The Tigers continued to assist the Gamecocks by committing two errors, including one that would have gotten Auburn out of the inning after giving up only one run. The onslaught continued in the eighth inning, as Havens and Darnell added another RBI each.

"Anytime you can win a series in this league, it's a good weekend," Tanner said. "We took it on the chin pretty good on Friday, and we bounced back and won two games. I was proud of their effort, and we were able to win the series the hard way."

Player of the game:

Travis Jones. The reigning National Player of the Week continued his tear this weekend. Jones had a homerun and 4 RBIs to pace the Gamecocks, and he batted second in the lineup for the first time in his career. Over the past six games, Jones is 14-24 (.583), with 7 homeruns, 19 RBIs, and 11 runs scored. "It's just mind-boggling," said Tanner. "It's a game of perspective, and it's not going to go like you want it to for an extended period, but he's sort of challenged that a little bit." Jones has a simple explanation for his success. "I just go out and try to hit the ball everyday," he says. Darnell thinks there is a little more to it. "He's just an awesome player," Darnell explained.

Key moment:

Auburn had closed to within a single run at 5-4 entering the bottom of the fifth inning. Darnell led off the inning and reached base on a throwing error. Darnell eventually scored on a wild pitch, as the Tigers fell apart. Jones added a three-run bomb in the inning that put the game out of reach. The inning was symptomatic of the entire day, as Auburn made crucial mistakes that Carolina took advantage of with timely hitting. Auburn was only credited with 4 errors for the game, but there were several other plays where mental mistakes gave Carolina extra at bats.

Notes:

- Reliever Jeff Jeffords replaced Will Atwood in the fifth inning and pitched 3.1 scoreless innings to earn the victory on Sunday.

- Trent Kline has a leg injury that kept him out of the starting lineup. Kline did come on in relief late in the game.

- First baseman Justin Smoak hit a pair of singles and now has a 17 game hitting streak.

- Darnell tied his career high with 4 RBIs.

- After being outscored 16-1 on Friday night, the Gamecocks outscored Auburn 28-5 over the next two games. The 18 runs scored Sunday were the second most scored this season, behind only the 20 runs scored in a game at Mississippi State.

- Darnell hit his 11th home run of the season, tying him with Smoak for the team lead. Jones is one dinger behind them.

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