Purple Payback: ECU takes Game 2, 13-4

The East Carolina Pirates didn't have long to sulk after a 22-5 afternoon blowout. So they didn't. Instead, they took the lead in the first inning of the nightcap against the Gamecocks, withstood a short Gamecock rally, and then scored five runs in the 3rd inning and never looked back, notching a 13-4 win to defeat the #2 ranked Gamecocks.

Baseball is a sport unlike any other. When asked by reporters trying to grasp a hold of the notion of how a team blows out its opponent one game and gets blown out the next game by the same team, South Carolina Head Coach Ray Tanner simply smiles and says, "That's baseball."

"We had a little lesson this weekend. We talked about pride, and I was really proud of the way we responded after the first game," ECU head coach Billy Godwin said. "I don't think I've ever been quite a part of something like that. For our guys to come back and respond that way, I couldn't be any more pleased."

Gamecock starting pitcher Blake Cooper was one strike away from a perfect inning in the first when USC third baseman James Darnell muffed a hard groundball and East Carolina scored one run on the ensuing double. Darnell was charged with an error, and the play was reflective of how the rest of the game would go for South Carolina.

Cooper ended up as the losing pitcher, surrendering six hits and six runs in three innings of work. "We made it a little tough on Blake because we didn't make a couple of plays for him," Tanner said. "That makes it difficult when you're facing a good team." ECU's Daniel Holder was the winning pitcher after he came on in relief for starter Sean Manes in the fifth, allowing just one run on four hits.

USC appeared to have things break its way on a strange play in the bottom of the first. Leadoff hitter Reese Havens drove a pitch to the wall in left, and ECU left-fielder Stephen Batts appeared to make the catch but dropped the ball as he crashed into the wall. Havens ran all the way home while Batts was trying to retrieve the ball and the almost unheard of four-base error tied up the game. When freshman Whit Merrifield then smacked his first home run as a Gamecock to give USC a 2-1 lead.

Andrew Crisp has been battling injuries, but he didn't look hurt in the top of the second when he dove to stop a ball targeted for center and made a Sportscenter Top 10 caliber play when he flipped the ball behind his back to Havens at second for an inning-ending force out.

The lead didn't last long. Jamie Ray hit a bases-loaded triple in the third, and a throwing error allowed Ray to come home as well. Havens had a career day, after going five for six in the first game, quickly got one of those runs back in the bottom half of the third when he launched his second homer of the day. The Gamecocks would not score again until the ninth inning, when Merrifield would score on a wild pitch.

After their five run inning in the third, the Pirates kept piling on, adding another run in the fourth inning and four more runs in the fifth on a grand slam homer by Brandon Henderson to take an 11-3 lead. USC relief pitcher Parker Bangs gave up five hits and four runs in 1.1 innings.

"East Carolina has a great club, we knew that," Tanner said. "We scored a lot of runs in the first game today but the second game was a different story. We didn't pitch it real well, we didn't catch it real well and we didn't get any timely hitting. They did. They were a lot better team in the second game."

USC pitching was solid after the fifth, but it was too late by then. Sean Wideberg came in in relief of the shell-shocked Bangs and was effective in three innings of work, holding the Pirates scoreless on three hits with three strikeouts and a pair of walks. "I thought Wideberg threw the ball well in the second game," Tanner said. "But we have to do a better job on the mound, that's for sure." Brandon Todd and Alex Burrell finished up for USC. Burrell fanned one batter in one inning of work in his debut.

Tanner said, "I really felt East Carolina had some quality at-bats, but you can't pitch from behind at any level. We did fall behind batters some and we have to improve in that area. I think it's a little bit too early to give up on our pitching. I think our guys will get better as the year goes along. You have to win games as you go."

ECU added its final two runs in the eighth when Adam Crisp misplayed a ball in left field.

Both teams are now 1-1 on the season.

Lefthander Craig Thomas will make his first career start for USC in the rubber game of the series, scheduled for Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Sarge Frye Field. The game will be broadcast live in Columbia on 107.5 FM.

"We're going to come out ready to play," Reese Havens said.

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