Gamecocks Show Their Power in 12-8 Slugfest

After scoring nine runs in their first NCAA tournament game of 2007, the Gamecocks cooled their bats an extra day due to Tropical Storm Barry, but they obviously didn‘t cool down much, as they scored twelve more runs on Charlotte in their second game, winning 12-8 in an offensive battle. USC is in command of the regional with a 2-0 record as the only undefeated team left in the tournament.

Charlotte came into the game with the highest winning percentage in the country, and left having given up the most runs they surrendered all season. The Gamecocks made it clear from the first pitch of the game that they were going to be aggressive, as Travis Jones hit the first pitch off the center field wall for a double. Catcher Trent Kline spoke of his teammate's setting the tone: "Jonesy has been huge all year. He did it again today. A leadoff double to start the game, he set the tone, and we just kind of worked off of that." Kline wasn't bad himself, hitting a three run homer in the fourth inning.

USC scored two runs in the first inning, and after Charlotte scored one run in the second to make it 2-1, Justin Smoak hit his 21st home run of the year to make a point that South Carolina was not going to let this one get away, the ball soaring over the deepest part of the outfield fence only emphasizing the point. Charlotte Head Coach Loren Hibbs said, "Smoak hits a fast ball to dead center, hits a fast ball down, we haven't seen anybody all year that does that. He‘s a pretty special guy." The switch hitting Smoak was asked if his home run over center field early in the game was his longest of the season. He replied, "Probably right-handed it was, right-handed this year I feel like I've scuffled a little bit. That ball did feel good…"

After Smoak opened the third with his solo homer, USC scored three more runs in the inning with a little help from Charlotte, who gave up a walk and an error in the inning. Jon Willard had a single RBI and Steven Reinhold had a double RBI to score the runs.

USC would score five more the next inning, one on a single RBI by Smoak, three on Kline's home run, and then another solo home run by Andrew Crisp, right after Kline's for good measure. Carolina led 11-1 at that point. It was Kline's first home run since April 8th against Florida, his sixth of the season.

Charlotte was designated the home team by the NCAA for this game, and in the bottom of the fourth tried to make it interesting with four runs of their own. They also put on a rally in the bottom of the ninth inning, with three more runs and two left on base.

On defense, USC starting pitcher Arik Hempy and reliever Will Atwood didn't have their best days in allowing eight runs; but it didn't matter, as South Carolina not only was hot on offense but solid on defense behind them, making Sportscenter Top 10 plays to record timely outs throughout the game when Charlotte threatened to make it closer.

All-SEC second baseman Travis Jones had what was an unusual defensive day for him in Friday‘s game, committing an error and looking merely mortal at times. But Jones, who is generously listed as 5'9" tall, made up for it on Sunday, as he made what could be the Defensive Play of the Year when he dove outstretched the full length of his frame and snared a nasty shot to center, and then sprang up and threw his own bullet to first to make the play.

Caption: Travis Jones makes one of the best defensive plays of the year.

Jones also sprang high into the air to make the final out of the sixth inning. Jones along with James Darnell, Andrew Crisp and others all received rousing cheers from the Carolina faithful for their defensive prowess Sunday afternoon.

Tanner said of Jones' incredible defensive play: "I was shocked at that play. I've seen him play all year, but you're talking about a breaking pitch and the lefty hit up the middle and it was a short hop and he had to go to his right and throw it back, and the guy could run. Smoak made some good plays, he was part of the play on the other end."

Hempy was the winning pitcher, and left on a high note, throwing three straight called strikes to his pitching counterpart, Steedley, in the fifth inning. He got a standing ovation from the Carolina fans as he walked off the mound and headed for the dugout. He is now 6-3 on the season.

Charlotte Coach Hibbs was succinct after the game: "They beat our tails. When you're playing a team as physical as South Carolina, the margin of error is reduced. When you get the wind blowing out and the ball jumping out, we were a little out of our element early in the game. It's just a great atmosphere. South Carolina people need to be proud of what they're doing here. With the new stadium, I'm sure it's going to increase even more."

One of the heroes of the game never walked out on the field, but was mentioned twice after the game: USC strength coach Billy Anderson. Hibbs asked who the strength coach at USC is, and when told it was Anderson, he replied, "He needs a raise. They have some physical guys. I saw some of these guys in high school during recruiting, but these guys have gotten physically stronger in a short amount of time. They're aggressive and they can hit. They force you to do things that most teams don't force you to do. We've played a lot of good teams, but we haven't played anybody as physical as South Carolina is."

Hibbs left the press room, and Ray Tanner and his players came in. When asked about the power hitting by USC this season, Kline, who had not heard Hibbs' comments, also gave credit to their strength coach: "Billy Anderson does a great job with us as strength and conditioning coach. We lift four times a week in the off season, and three times a week during the season. He does a great job of keeping us mentally and physically prepared."

Tanner was tired but happy after the game. "We're very happy to win and advance to tomorrow's championship game. It was a hard fought game." he said.

There were 4452 fans in attendance for the game, who saw USC run it's season record to 44-18. Charlotte drops to 48-11.

At 4 pm on Monday, USC will face the winner of the elimination game between NC State and Charlotte, which started 50 minutes after the Gamecocks' victory concluded. Should USC win that game, they would advance to the Super Regionals next weekend. If they lose, they would have an immediate rematch with the winner of the first game, with the winner of that game, advancing to the Super Regionals.

Offensive Player of the Game: Trent Kline was one of many offensive heroes today, but he hit the biggest blow with his three run home run in the fourth inning.

Defensive Player of the Game: Travis Jones got his picture in the game story for a reason: he made an incredible play that few players could attempt, much less make.

Notes: Tanner said Monday's starting pitcher will probably be Mike Cisco.

The trio of homers by Smoak, Kline and Crisp gave USC a total of 109 in 62 games this season, the sixth highest single season total in school history. USC continues to lead the nation in home runs.

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