Gamecocks down Catamounts, set to face Tigers

The Gamecocks hosted Western Carolina Tuesday night in a tune-up for their midweek showdown with Clemson. In front of 2,234 fans, Carolina defeated the Catamounts 9-6. Read inside for a full report on Tuesday's victory.

Western Carolina (15-16) came into the game having committed 67 errors in 30 games, and true to form, they committed another two in the game. Those errors helped the Gamecocks (21-10) score five unearned runs.

Carolina struck first behind Reese Havens and Justin Smoak. Havens led off the first inning with a single. After Harley Lail popped out, Smoak drilled a line drive home run to right center. The homer was the eighth of the season and 47th of Smoak's career, leaving him one shy of Hank Small's Gamecock record.

"It was right down the middle and I got lucky and hit it well," Smoak said. "It's one of those things that you never know what's going to happen until it happens. It's going to be a big honor I guess, but it's just one of those things. You've got to come out and play."

The Catamounts fought back to take the lead in the third inning. Pitcher Sam Dyson retired the first six batters, the last four on strikeouts, but Western Carolina finally figured him out. Matt Johns led off with a walk, followed by a double from Jason Haynes, and then Tyler Kirkpatrick singled in the first run. After a groundout by Dylan de Graaf, Brent Greer singled to left to score two runs. Later, Ryan Matthews tacked on a solo run in the fourth inning to give Western Carolina a 4-2 lead.

"[Dyson] has pitched pretty well for us in his opportunities, but he's always had an inning that's gotten the best of him," said Ray Tanner, "and that was the case tonight. He battled for us."

The Gamecocks took the lead in a bizarre fourth inning that saw them score four unearned runs. Down two with two outs, Phil Disher drew a walk. Andrew Crisp hit a bloop to second, but second baseman Haynes started toward the dugout before the ball was in his glove, and the error kept the inning alive. Kyle Enders hit a ground ball to third, but Nick Liles hesitated whether to tag Disher or throw to first. Disher dodged the tag and the throw was late, loading the bases with two outs. DeAngelo Mack laced a line drive up the right field line that deflected off the first baseman's glove for a bases clearing triple. Whit Merrifield capped off the scoring with a single up the middle to score Mack.

"It was huge," said Tanner. "I told our guys in the meeting today, we've played hard, we've done some good things, [but] we need more two out hits and two out two strike hits. Lo and behold D-Mac gets up there and has a chance and knocks in three runs with two outs."

Western Carolina made a game of it in the eighth with a pair of runs. Sean Wideberg walked Blake Murphy to start the inning. A throwing error by Havens allowed Murphy to score and put Liles on second. Wideberg got the next two batters out, but gave up an RBI single to Haynes. Brandon Todd came in from the bullpen to get the final out of the inning and keep Carolina's lead intact, 7-6.

"I could sense it in the dugout, our guys were still a little bit uptight [after being swept by Georgia]," Tanner said.

The Gamecocks got a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the inning. Enders hit a solo shot that just cleared the fence inches to the right of the left field foul pole. Mack crushed the very next pitch over the scoreboard in right center. Mack finished the day with a career-high four RBIs.

"Bases loaded, I just got a pitch I could drive and took advantage of it," said Mack. "I was trying to be aggressive early in the count [on the home run]."

The back to back home runs in the eighth inning by Enders and Mack were the first back-to-back homers by the Gamecocks since Smoak and Disher went back-to-back against Davidson last Wednesday.

Dyson got the win for the Gamecocks, giving up 4 runs on 5 hits in 5 innings of work. Wideberg gave up 2 runs on 3 hits in 2.2 innings, and Todd got the save for his perfect 1.1 innings. Daniel Ottone took the loss for Western Carolinia, giving up 6 runs on 6 hits in 4.2 innings.

The Gamecocks return to the field Wednesday night against Clemson. Nick Godwin will take the mound for Carolina, and Craig Gullickson will get the start for the Tigers. Game time is set for 7 PM.

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