Yardcocks take game two against Bulldogs
COLUMBIA – It was an old western showdown in Columbia Saturday afternoon as Will Atwood and Lee Swindle battled through six innings before Atwood and the Gamecocks finally came out on top late in the contest.
"Pitcher's duel in this day and age in college baseball is pretty good," South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. "I thought both guys, Atwood and Swindle for them. We couldn't get too many good looks at Swindle. He only struck out one, I think, but we couldn't get too many good hacks at him."
After both teams traded quiet innings to start the game, the Bulldogs (9-11, 1-4) quickly found themselves threatening in the top of the second. After Cody Freeman struck out to begin the top of the frame, Connor Powers and Jeff Flagg singled, sandwiched in between a single by Tyler Moore.
That's when southpaw Will Atwood (2-0) got to work. With the bases loaded and two outs, the junior quickly attacked sophomore Jet Butler, who struck out on four pitches to end the inning.
The top of the third started just as shaky for the southpaw as the inning before it did, as consecutive singles by Grant Hogue and Nick Hardy put runners on the corners with no outs.
But just as he did in the second, Atwood forced Jason Nappi to ground into a double play, then forced Freeman to pop up to second base, getting out of the inning by just allowing one run.
"I thought it was a quality outing," Atwood said. "I soaked up seven innings there, and I had a few pitches working for me. The slider kind of disappeared but then the curveball came alive for me."
Meanwhile, Mississippi State's Lee Swindle (2-1), who was starting his first SEC game of the season, was mowing through the Gamecock batters, as he retired nine straight after walking leadoff man Reese Havens to start the contest.
"A credit to their pitcher," Atwood said of Swindle. "He pitched us pretty well and baffled us there for a little while, but our guys got it done."
However, South Carolina (14-5, 3-2) finally got their second baserunner in the bottom of the fourth when freshman Whit Merrifield walked to start the frame.
The next batter then got USC in the hit column, when junior James Darnell lined a pitch to the left field wall for a double, putting both runners in scoring position.
The Bulldogs looked as if they may finally get the first out of the inning before second baseman Jet Butler muffed a grounder from Justin Smoak which tied the game at one.
When it looked like things may begin to fall apart for Swindle, the junior quickly rebounded to strike out catcher Kyle Enders, and then got second baseman Andrew Crisp to ground into a 5-4-3 inning ending double play.
"I think throughout the game momentum shifts, unless it's a complete blowout," Atwood said. "I gave up a walk right there, a free pass and didn't have any outs and Enders just made an unbelievable play over his shoulder. Hats off to him, that was just a great play."
The pitching duel continued into the next frame as Atwood continued to work out of trouble.
With two on and nobody out, Nick Hardy's bunt attempt popped foul, and a diving catch by Kyle Enders behind the plate set up the 6-4-3 double play a batter later.
After the dust settled, the two SEC clubs remained in a deadlock through six and a half innings before Justin Smoak drove the first pitch he saw from Swindle opposite field over the left field wall to give Carolina the 2-1 advantage.
It was Smoak's fifth homerun of the season, and was also the 18th time in 19 games that Carolina had hit a homerun.
"Smoak definitely started it off," shortstop Reese Havens said. "He put a real good swing on that ball and it was flying to left today, and he hit that ball well and he got us going. We just kind of carried it from there. We got some guys on base and made things happen and that's what you've got to do late in ballgames."
After Andrew Crisp picked up a single to extend his hitting streak to 12 games and Harley Lail beat out a grounder to third base for an infield single, designated hitter Phil Disher was intentionally walked to load the bases for pinch hitter Adam Crisp.
That was the end for Swindle, who gave forth a valiant effort in his first big start of the season.
The final line on the Eupora, Mississippi native was 6 1/3 innings pitched, two earned runs, five hits, one strikeout and three walks.
Tyler Whitney, a sophomore southpaw from Lakeland, Tennessee, then got Crisp to ground into the 5-2 forceout, which kept the bases loaded for the leadoff hitter Reese Havens.
Havens responded by lining an 0-2 pitch into left field for a two RBI single, then advanced to second base on an error by Nappi, which allowed Lail and Disher to score.
"I got down in the count and was just trying to battle and make something happen," Havens said. "I got lucky enough to put one in there. "
With the three run lead, the Gamecocks turned to their bullpen to try and close out the victory.
The final line on Atwood was seven innings pitched, four hits, one earned run, three walks and five strikeouts.
Reliever Brandon Todd, much like his predecessor, worked out of trouble in the top of the eighth as he struck out Nappi and got Cody Freeman to ground out to first base to leave a runner stranded on second.
Todd then worked through the ninth with ease, as he retired the Bulldogs 1-2-3 to record his first career save with the Gamecocks.
USC will look for the sweep tomorrow as they face Ricky Bowens, who baffled the Mississippi Rebels last Sunday.
"We've got a tough assignment tomorrow," Tanner said. "Ricky Bowen was one strike away from a no-hitter last week against Ole Miss. So we'll see him tomorrow and I know he'll be difficult for us."
First pitch is at 1:30 ET.
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