Georgia Bullpen Powers Sweep of Carolina 4-2

After a stormy Saturday, the skies were brighter over Athens Georgia on Sunday, but the results were still dark for the struggling Gamecock offense as they were swept in their SEC series by Georgia, losing the third game of the series against the Bulldogs by a score of 4-2. It was Georgia's seventh win in a row.

South Carolina and Georgia entered the weekend series tied for second in the SEC East. No more. After Georgia swept the 9th ranked Gamecocks, they are in sole position of first place in the division after Tennessee took two out of three against the former #1 team in the SEC East, Florida. Georgia is now 20-10 on the season and 9-3 in SEC play, while the loss drops Carolina to 20-10 and 6-6 in the SEC. It also marked the first time in Georgia school history when they have swept both South Carolina and Clemson in the same season.

The win was a testament to the strength of the Georgia bullpen, which has now gone 34.1 innings without an earned run, stretching over ten straight SEC games, and to the lack of offensive production by the Gamecocks offense. USC only scored five runs the entire weekend, all five runs coming from solo home runs.

USC head coach Ray Tanner had nothing but praise for the Georgia pitching effort. "They have a much better team than we do. Their bullpen is outstanding, having gone 34 innings without allowing a run. Our guys battled hard, but we just weren't able to get to their pitchers. They're just a better team."

Tanner made clear his displeasure with his offense after the game. "Our run production was very disappointing. We had zero, three, and two (runs in the three games) that's a tough way to go through a series and think you're going to win it."

At one point he sounded more like his football counterpart Steve Spurrier when he bluntly held accountable some of his players who were responsible for the offensive shortfall: "We have had some unproductive at-bats. We throw our bats away. Today, I bunt Havens to get runners in scoring position when it is 4-2, and Merrifield takes a first pitch right down the middle and didn't move the bat."

Both teams had eight hits on the day, but the Gamecocks left nine men stranded on base, frequently in scoring position.

After a last second win in the first game and a comeback in the second game of the series, Georgia got out front early and stayed there in the third game, taking a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Georgia has outscored their opposition 48-14 in the first frame this season.

The performance of the Georgia pitching staff overshadowed the Carolina hurlers' efforts all weekend, including Sunday's effort by USC starter Blake Cooper, who took the loss for the Gamecocks and is now 3-3 on the season. He pitched 7.2 innings, giving up all four earned runs for the day.

Cooper was hurt in the first inning by his defensive teammates. After Cooper gave up a single to Matt Olson, the Bulldog runner advanced to second base on a passed ball to catcher Kyle Enders. Then Georgia put runners on the corners as Reese Havens missed his throw to first base, allowing Gordon Beckham to reach on an infield single. Georgia then scored its first run then on a Gamecock miscue as catcher Kyle Enders threw past second baseman Andrew Crisp on a steal attempt by Beckham, allowing Olson to score.

Carolina finally got on the board in the fourth when James Darnell hit his 10th home run of the year, and then two batters later Phil Disher followed with his ninth blast to cut the deficit to 3-2.

Georgia fans have a platform built beyond the right field fence where they have a PA system they use to loudly torment opposing outfielders. A recent television episode had a storyline where a professional baseball player had such control that he was able to put the ball exactly where he wanted it – upside the head of a coach who was having an affair with his wife. Disher looked like he had similar intent in real life, when he crushed the ball, sending it straight for the Georgia offenders, before it fell just short of their lofty perch at the top of the hill. It was small consolation in light of the loss.

With the lead trimmed to 3-2 going in the fifth inning, Georgia summoned the first of four relievers that were able to keep the Gamecocks off the scoreboard in several run scoring opportunities. Justin Earls pitched 2.1 innings for Georgia and was credited with the win, but it was a team effort by the Bulldogs, with starter Nathan Moreau pitching 4 innings, followed by Earls, then Nick Montgomery closed out the last two batters in the 7th inning. Dean Weaver pitched in the 8th inning against the Gamecocks, and simply unhittable Joshua Fields closed out the game in the ninth. Facing Whit Merrifield, Fields pitched consecutive fastballs clocked at 95 and 92 miles per hour, before throwing a 78 mph changeup to strike out the Gamecock center fielder. He picked up his eighth save of the year in doing so. He was the winning pitcher in the opening game against Carolina, and also had a save earlier in the week against Clemson.

Tanner said, "You have to give Georgia credit, they're very, very good. They have all the ingredients to get back to the College World Series, with that bullpen…"

Georgia got a run back in the fifth when Peisel drew a leadoff walk and went to second on a groundout by Matt Olson. After an intentional walk to shortstop Gordon Beckham, sophomore Rich Poythress lined a run-scoring single up the middle to make it 4-2.

The Gamecocks nearly took the lead in the top of the seventh inning, only to see the Georgia bullpen get out of another jam. Kyle Enders got things started for Carolina with a leadoff single, and Scott Wingo walked to give the Gamecocks a pair of runners with no outs. Following Reese Havens' sacrifice bunt that advanced the runners to second and third, Georgia reliever Nick Montgomery came in and struck out Merrifield to get the second out of the inning. James Darnell hit a long fly ball out to center that was caught at the edge of the warning track by Cerione, just shy of the wall at the 400 foot mark, and the Georgia lead was safe.

The high point of the weekend for the Gamecocks was the performance given by their pitching staff. "We pitched pretty well in this series," Tanner said. "We've played thirty games, and our pitching staff has done a superb job overall, bullpen included. We've had a chance to win a lot more games than twenty."

Georgia coach David Perno was gracious after the game. "There's a lot of confidence in our dugout. USC's starting pitchers did a nice job against us, and they're the best defensive team we've played and certainly the one with the most power. It was three well-played baseball games, and I'm glad we're through with this series."

South Carolina will host Western Carolina on Tuesday night, and then face arch-rival Clemson also in Columbia on Wednesday, before traveling to Auburn for next weekend's SEC series.

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