USC takes 6-2 chilly thriller over Kentucky

In a battle of Top Ten teams, #10 South Carolina topped #8 Kentucky in a critical SEC baseball series Sunday afternoon, giving the Gamecocks the series victory in the rubber game of a three game series at Sarge Frye Field. The 6-2 victory was the second straight win for USC over UK after dropping the series opener. Read inside for a full report on today's action.

COLUMBIA – South Carolina scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth to break a 2-2 tie before going onto win game three over the Kentucky Wildcats before 1,083 chilly fans at Sarge Frye Field in the rubber match of a three game series.

South Carolina improved to 18-7 and 6-3 in the SEC, while Kentucky fell to 22-4 and 5-4 in the SEC.

"It was a great college baseball game and we came up with a couple of big hits at the end," head coach Ray Tanner said of the game.

Picking up the win for Carolina was senior Brandon Todd (1-1), which gave the righty his first career victory in a Gamecock uniform.

"Impressive," Tanner said of Todd's performance. "As I said earlier in the week when Cujo (Curtis Johnson) went down, we thought he was poised to help us. We felt like we had a 1-2 punch with him and Cujo. Of course now with Cujo out it's going to be more on him, but he did a nice job and he did exactly what we thought he could."

Brock Baber took the loss for the Wildcats.

Kentucky got their first legitimate threat in the second inning. Chris McClendon singled up the middle and was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Ryan Wilkes. Two batters later, shortstop Chris Wade walked to put runners on first and second. However, Cooper battled back to get Marcus Nidiffer to ground out to third base.

Meanwhike, UK senior right-hander Greg Dombrowski was mowing down the Gamecock batters.

South Carolina knew the Rome, Georgia native would be a tough one to crack, as he came into the game with a flawless 4-0 record and a sparkling 1.75 ERA.

Dombrowski retired the first seven batters he faced while striking out four of them.

Cooper found himself in trouble in the next frame, as Keenan Wiley singled and advanced to second on an error by Whit Merrifield, then advanced to third on a bunt single by Collin Cowgill.

Cooper responded by turning a miraculous 4-6-3 double play, as Crisp dove over a ball up the middle then threw to Havens on two knees, who fired to first for the twin killing.

Despite the runner scoring from third, the Gamecocks were pleased by the response by Cooper and his team's defense.

"He threw the ball very well," Kyle Enders said of Cooper's performance. "Kentucky can hit the ball real well and they have a very good offense. He mixed in his pitches and his curveball and kept them off-balance all night. We couldn't ask for anything more. He did a great job."

The momentum carried over into the bottom half of the frame, as DeAngelo Mack quickly put a stop to Dombrowski's domination by launching a homerun just over the right field wall to tie the game at one.

The Wildcats tried to get to Cooper again in the top half of the fifth, but the play of Enders stepped up for Carolina once again as the sophomore threw out his second baserunner of the afternoon as Wiley was caught stealing third base.

USC tried to push across the go-ahead run in the bottom half of the frame as Mack walked with two outs, then Lail reached on an infield base hit that third baseman Chris McClendon couldn't handle. However, the inning ended on a strikeout by Havens.

The Gamecocks would get their redemption an inning later however as a single by Merrifield, an intentional walk to Justin Smoak, and an Andrew Crisp single loaded the bases for Phil Disher.

The single that fell between the diving shortstop and third baseman by Crisp helped extend his hitting streak to 18 games.

Disher, who was 0-2 with two strikeouts at the time, then hit a liner to the deep-playing shortstop, who couldn't get the throw to first base in time, as Disher just beat out the throw for an RBI infield single.

"You want to try and win as many games in the league as possible because it's a hard league and Kentucky is a great ballclub," Disher said. "It was really nice for us to pick up two wins this weekend."

With Carolina up 2-1, Dombrowski's day ended after 5 2/3 innings, giving up two earned runs on six hits with eight strikeouts.

To get the matchup that Tanner wanted, Adam Crisp came in to pinch hit for DeAngelo Mack against southpaw James Paxton.

Tanner's decision went for naught however as Kentucky second baseman Ryan Wilkes made a highlight reel diving catch who forced out Disher at second base.

Meanwhile, Cooper continued to breeze through the vaunted Kentucky lineup until he ran into some trouble with two outs in the seventh. With the bases empty, Cooper drilled Tyler Howe in the back, and then gave up an infield single to Chris Wade. Catcher Marcus Nidiffer then hit a frozen rope to right field to tie the game at two apiece.

That would be the end of the line for Cooper, whose final line was six and 2/3 innings, giving up seven hits and one earned run and striking out three and a walk.

Todd then came in and forced a groundout to Andrew Crisp to end the inning.

After Lail reached on a leadoff walk in the bottom of the seventh, Kentucky coach John Cohen quickly yanked Paxton in favor of closer Andrew Albers.

Albers repeatedly tried to throw Lail out at first, which eventually caught up to the veteran as a wild pitch sent Lail to second base, who then reached third base as Havens grounded out to the pitcher at first base.

The southpaw then struck out Merrifield, who was then strangely yanked for Brock Baber.

Cohen's cat and mouse game with his pitchers paid off as Baber got Darnell into a quick 0-2 hole, then got the California native to fly out to centerfield.

In the top of the eighth, Enders continued his strong defensive play as Cowgill found himself a dead duck as Enders threw him out at second base, his third of the game.

"It felt pretty good to do that (end Kentucky rallies)," Enders said. "I wasn't swinging the bat well and I wasn't doing anything offensively to contribute to the win, but, I mean, I was glad that I threw out those guys. That was big in a close game like that."

Todd followed up Ender's showing with some impressive play of his own, as he struck out Brian Spear then forced Sawyer Carroll into a 4-3 groundout.

Baber then found himself into a heap of trouble in the bottom of the eighth as Smoak walked to start the inning, then Ender's reached on a fielder's choice sacrifice bunt as the UK catcher tried to get Smoak out at second, who slid in safely.

Crisp then struck out on an awful pitch, as he attempted to bunt on a throw that was, quite literally, behind him.

However, Disher picked up Crisp's slack as he knocked a single to left field, scoring Smoak and giving the big bopper his second RBI on the afternoon.

"I was just trying not to get out there and trying to get the run across and put a ball in play somewhere," Disher said. "I was lucky enough to get a hit there. It was inside and I believe it was a two-seam (fastball)."

With the 3-2 advantage, USC tried to put some seperation between the two clubs as Lail picked up his third hit on the day as he singled just past the diving shortstop, giving the Gamecocks the two run lead at 4-2. Havens then hit a single to the right side, scoring pinch runner Scott Wingo to push the lead to three.

Whit Merrifield then hit a bunch single right at the pitcher, as the UK pitcher fell to the ground and couldn't make the throw, scoring Lail and giving Carolina the 6-2 lead.

Todd closed it out in the top of the ninth, recording back-to-back strikeouts before Merrifield made a diving catch in centerfield to end the game.

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