Gamecocks Win Sunday Rubber Match
Coach Ray Tanner waited all weekend to name his starting pitcher for Sunday, but he ultimately made the right decision. Blake Cooper got the start for Carolina and pitched five sterling innings before taking a seat in the sixth. "Last night I got a call from Coach Calvi," Cooper said. ""I just wanted to go out and give him a good start."
"Cooper gave us a very, very good start," said Tanner. "He pitched well early, and we got some runs for him. Cooper was really sharp, and he was able to get his breaking ball going. I went with him because of his breaking ball. I thought with seven lefties in the lineup for Kentucky, you've got to throw some breaking balls consistantly."
The first three innings saw each pitcher dominate. Carolina manufactured a run in the bottom of the third that, at the time, seemed like it could be crucial in a low scoring game. However, the following inning saw the Gamecocks come alive at the plate, turning the game into a slugfest.
In the fourth inning, Carolina sent all nine men to the plate. Jon Willard led off with a double and scored on a single by Steven Reinhold. Travis Jones added a three run homer, his 15th of the year, temporarily tying James Darnell and Justin Smoak for the team lead. It did not last long though, as Darnell came up after Jones and blasted his sixteenth homer. Phil Disher finished up the six-run inning with a single that scored Justin Smoak.
With their powerful offense, everyone in the park knew Kentucky had a rally in them, and sure enough, the Wildcats came up with a big sixth inning. Matt McKinney started the inning by hitting a home run off the first pitch he saw. Cooper slowly unraveled, walking a man and hitting a batter. Kentucky loaded the bases and hit three consecutive singles to score a run each. Jeff Jeffords took over for Cooper and struck out McKinney to end the rally.
Cooper was at a loss to explain why he struggled in the sixth. "I think I hit a batter or something and got in a little bit of trouble," he said. "I wasn't tired, but things just didn't go right."
The Kentucky comeback did not last for long. With the 7-0 lead cut to 7-4, Carolina came back in the bottom of the inning with six more runs. Smoak singled to score Jones, and Kline added a two RBI single. Then, in what may have been the most surprising moment of the day, Cheyne Hurst hit a three run homer, the first time he has gone deep this season. "A big part of that game was after they scored four in the sixth we came back and answered," Tanner said. "That was big for us."
The homers from Jones and Darnell were expected, but not from Hurst. "I might as well join in on the fun," he explained.
Trailing 13-4, Kentucky added a pair of runs in the eighth inning to round out the scoring.
The win gives the Gamecocks the series win and puts the team two games above .500 in the SEC. "This was huge," said Hurst. "This is a big deal for us to come back after a loss yesterday."
Tanner said the same thing, "I'd be happy to win two out of three anytime, but it's been hard to come by [lately]. We didn't get a series while we were on the road, and we were able to come home do it the hard way."
Player of the Game: Blake Cooper
The freshman right hander found out Saturday night that he would get the start Sunday. Through five innings he had faced just 16 batters. He finished with five strikeouts. Things fell apart for Cooper in the sixth, but he held down the Wildcats long enough for the Gamecocks to get out to the lead. "I felt pretty good," Cooper said. I just wanted to go out and hit my spots. I think I did pretty well today."
Key Moment: Bottom of the sixth inning
Carolina looked to be cruising going into the sixth inning, but Kentucky got back in the game with a four-run inning. The Gamecocks rose to the occasion and responded with a six-run inning of their own that effectively ended Kentucky's chances.
- In his last 24 games, Jones has hit over .400 (38-95), with 14 home runs and 42 RBIs. Jones said modestly, "I just do what I can do to help my team." He admitted though that if those stats belonged to someone else, he would say "He's on fire."
- The Gamecocks have six games left in the SEC. They are part of a group of 8 teams that are bunched together in the middle of the standings. "I'd like to be about six games better," Tanner joked. "I heard Coach Toman say that we could be in third or we could be in ninth [depending on the outcome of the Sunday games]. You go from the outhouse to the penthouse in this league really quick."
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