In the Big Innings – USC 15 Duquesne 4

It's an old baseball joke about how God created the world "in the big inning." South Carolina wasn't joking when they scored multiple hits in four of their eight innings at the plate to overwhelm overmatched Duquesne 15-4 Friday night in the first of a three game weekend series.

Duquesne came into the game 0-7 and didn't figure to be much of a challenge for the #3 Gamecocks. Only 1032 fans showed up after it had rained most of the day, but those who did were treated to quite a game.

Starting pitcher Mike Cisco retired the entire batting order consecutively, sitting down those first nine batters with 12 pitches in the first inning, 5 in the second, and 8 in the third. His offense provided more than enough cover for him with 16 hits and 15 runs, with each starter recording at least one base hit. USC has now scored in double digits in four of their first eight games.

Reese Havens started the USC half of the 1st with a "slosh triple" to right field, as the Dukes right fielder waded in vain through the rain-soaked outfield in pursuit of the ball. It was Haven's second career triple, and extended his hitting streak to eight games. After Scott Wingo walked, the Gamecocks went ahead by two runs on a RBI double from James Darnell. Darnell then scored on Harley Lail's two-out RBI double to put USC up 3-0.

In the top of the fourth, trailing 3-0, the Dukes woke up and cut the lead to 3-2 and made Cisco throw 23 pitches before the side was retired. It was the Duke's only big inning.

The Gamecock offense responded in the bottom of the inning, letting the Dukes know they were not going to have a repeat of their last outing against Charlotte, where they led early but fell 11-2. The South Carolina batters put five runs on the board in the bottom of the inning to take any question out of the game. Kyle Enders singled to center field to start the inning, then DeAngelo Mack singled to right and Enders advanced to third. Mack advanced to second when Whit Merrifield successfully bunted, dropping the ball into a tiny gap up the third base line between the third baseman and the pitcher as they converged unsuccessfully on the ball, proving more dangerous to each other than they did to the ball. Havens was out at first on the next play, but got a RBI as Havens trotted home and Merrifield and Mack advanced to second and third, respectively. Scott Wingo took one for the team and loaded the bases when he was hit by a pitch. Darnell flied out to left but scored Mack on the sac fly. Justin Smoak then doubled to right center, scoring Merrifield and Wingo. Phil Disher has three homes runs on the season coming into the night, but his batting average was under .200 when he took the plate in the fourth. He hit a sharp single right into center and scored Smoak. Harley Lail flied out to end the inning, but the damage to the opponent was done.

Cisco, now 3-0 on the year, had a season-high six strikeouts while working seven innings and allowing four runs on six hits. "As a Friday night starter, you want to go as long as you can," Cisco said. "I wanted to save the bullpen, especially with the way we were winning tonight. It's good to save the bullpen for tomorrow and Sunday."

Friday's game is the first of six straight days of baseball for the Gamecocks. They will then have a one day break before beginning SEC play on the road next Friday against last season's SEC Champions, the Vanderbilt Commodores.

"I was very pleased with Mike Cisco's performance," Tanner said. "They touched him up a little, but they've got some good hitters in the middle of their order. They've been battle tested. They've been on the road to Baton Rouge and Tallahassee, so they certainly weren't surprised by anything we had tonight. We're going to Vandy next weekend. He needed to get it up."

"They answered at 3-2, but then in the fourth, that's when we answered back," Tanner said. "That was a big key in the game. After they cut it to one, we were able to answer. We scored some runs late."

Carolina increased the lead to 9-2 with a run with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Merrifield walked on four pitches, as did Havens, and then Wingo drilled a single to right field to score Merrifield. Duquesne added two runs in the sixth inning on a two-run hit from Mark Tracy.

Carolina scored twice more in the seventh inning on RBIs from Havens and Smoak. The Gamecocks would complete the scoring in the eighth inning with a four spot. Kyle Enders hit his second two-run homer of the season, and Duquesne gifted USC with the last two runs of the game on a throwing error and a passed ball.

Tanner got to use a lot of players on the night. USC recruited Lexington native Justin Hopper, but his hot bat helped him beat out DeAngelo Mack for a place in the starting lineup. This night, Hopper got his shot on the mound for an inning, and Tanner was pleased. "I was real pleased with the inning that he pitched," Tanner said. "True freshman, first time out there, he had some poise. For the first time out there, he had a quality performance and looked like a guy we could use more."

Craig Thomas completed the game for the Gamecocks by pitching a scoreless ninth inning. Duquesne starting pitcher Ryan Juran suffered the loss and is 0-3 this year. He allowed nine runs on 10 hits in five innings of work.

Meanwhile, Mack took Hopper's place in the lineup and worked it, lighting up the Duke pitchers for three hits. "It was nice to get in the lineup," Mack said. "I was seeing the ball well. I took advantage of some good pitches."

"DeAngelo Mack has had some very good practices for us lately and we inserted him into the lineup." Tanner said. "We knew we were going to use Hopper in relief, so he got the start, and he took advantage of it. We need a left-hander off the bench, so I'm happy for DeAngelo and the game that he had."

Scott Wingo was the designated hittee on the night, as he got hit three times by three different pitchers. He tied a school record, becoming the fifth Gamecock player in Carolina history to be hit by a pitch three times in one game. Tanner said, "Wingo, he's probably a little closer to the plate than some guys. The batter's box is his. He doesn't jump out of the way, but he doesn't lean into the pitches."

Carolina improves to 6-2 on the year. Duquesne is now 0-8 this season. Game two of the series is scheduled for 4 pm Saturday.

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