Hempy Returns to Friday Night Lights
The last time Arik Hempy started on Friday night was against LSU early last season. In the fourth inning he left with pain in his elbow. He'll never forget the start. Combine the return of Hempy to Friday's with news of the Senate overriding Governor Mark Sanford's veto to allow USC more loan money, the Gamecocks and their fans were extra lively on such a sullen evening in the sky. Arik Hempy would allow all 4,637 in attendance to celebrate as he struck out a season high 10 batters. Mowing through the Kentucky line up, Hempy yielded one unearned run on two hits to lead the Gamecocks to an 8-1 victory.
With the good news about the Senate's actions a buzz, new Friday night starter Arik Hempy, breezed through the first inning. He got leadoff man Antone DeJesus to hit a weak pop up to leftfielder Jon Willard before striking out the next two.
In the bottom of the first inning, the Gamecocks came out swinging. The usual suspects – Jones, Darnell and Smoak, were on Wildcat starter Chris Rusin from the outset. Doubles by Jones and Darnell, followed by a Justin Smoak infield single had the Gamecocks ahead early.
The Gamecock bats looked sharp, but Arik Hempy, who had the crowd lively early, looked sharper. After striking out the side in the second inning, he had five consecutive heading to the third where the streak ended on a fly out by Ryan Wilkes.
"Pound the strike zone. They came out and started swinging at first pitch. (I) just had to adjust," said Hempy.
Coach Ray Tanner was pleased again by the comeback of Hempy, "Arik was really, really good. He was outstanding and gave us a chance to win again. He's been doing that lately for us."
Travis Jones made a phenomenal play, diving deep into the outfield grass to snag an infield single. Matt McKinney, already on first base from a Hempy walk, must have doubted Jones' mobility. Watching the ball into the hole, he continued around second base. When he saw Jones pop up from his gem of a grab, McKinney tried to stop and head back for second base. Falling in the process, the all too common 4-6-5-3-6 run-down took place and Carolina was out of the inning.
An old wives' tale passed on from baseball's early years says, "The guy who makes the nice play to end the inning, usually leads off the next."
Travis Jones wouldn't disappoint. The Gamecock leadoff man continued his tremendous play by thumping an opposite field home run – a home run no one expected to leave the park, him included. The signature laugh and smile exploded across his face when he explained, "Nah. I didn't think it was going out. It got up in the wind I guess."
No stranger to four hit games, Jones delivered one against Florida on April 8th. By the end of the sixth inning, Jones was 4-for-4 and a triple shy of a cycle. He'd driven in two Carolina runs and scored three at that point.
As usual, the most humble player on the team, Jones said he wasn't thinking about the cycle, "I wasn't thinking about it, but then people started telling me in the dugout that I need a triple. I wasn't really thinking about it though."
A passed ball off the glove of Trent Kline moved the runners over and essentially cost the Gamecocks an unearned run on a long fly ball by Brian Spear.
The Gamecocks would get the run back, though, in the top of the fourth inning. Travis Jones collected his third hit, a sharp single to left field, driving in Steven Reinhold.
The Gamecocks extended their lead by another run while knocking Kentucky starter Chris Rusin from the game. In the inning, Travis Jones tied his career high for hits in a game with his fourth – a bunt single placed perfectly down the third base side. With James Darnell's team leading fifth sacrifice fly bringing home Reese Havens, the Yardcocks took a 5-1 lead.
Before the inning would end though, Justin Smoak put his stamp on it with a tremendous three run home run to left center field. The moon shot tied him with James Darnell for the team lead in home runs (15) and increased his RBI total to a team-leading 56. "I just got into one," said Smoak, "I wasn't even really guessing. That's been my problem – guessing. I was just swinging."
Coach Tanner spoke to the familiar formula of an effective Hempy mixed with heavy bats, "Well, I mean, usually when we score six or more runs, we win. I looked at a stat before the game today. When we had out-hit our opponents, we were 27 and 1."
Arik Hempy called it a night after six innings of brilliance. With ten strikeouts versus two hits and no earned runs, he gave way to Jeff Jeffords. Continuing the onslaught, Jeffords struck out three more Wildcats. Another in the ninth would give the Gamecock staff 14 for the night.
The Gamecocks, now 34-13, 12-10 SEC, look to clinch the series tomorrow with former Friday night ace Harris Honeycutt against Jr. LHP Andrew Albers (5-3 4.94). The time of the game has been changed to six o'clock.
Player of the Game: Arik Hempy. Six innings, 90 pitches, 10 strikeouts, zero earned runs, two hits and the win. What else could he have done? What a comeback story from Tommy John surgery.
Awesome Stat of the Game: Travis Jones' 14th home run of the season was his tenth in SEC play.
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