Smoak's career night leads USC over Upstate
When will opposing pitchers learn not to pitch to Justin Smoak?
The soon-to-be first round draft pick blasted three homeruns Tuesday night and picked up a career high nine RBIs as his performance helped the Gamecocks (26-10) dominate USC Upstate (18-20) in the first ever meeting between the two schools.
"I got a couple pitches to hit tonight and hit them well," Smoak said. "It's just one of those nights. I've never had a night like this before, but it's just one of those things."
Smoak also had help from fellow infielders Reese Havens and Phil Disher, who both added round-trippers as well.
The game started out promising for South Carolina as redshirt freshman Sam Dyson (4-0) retired three of the first four batters, allowing only a two-out walk to start the contest.
USC quickly jumped on the board in the bottom half of the frame as leadoff man Reese Havens blasted the third pitch of the game over the left centerfield wall to give Carolina the early 1-0 advantage.
"I was glad to see the ball go out of the park, especially Reese leading off the game. It seemed like Eckard (USC Upstate's starting pitcher) was going to settle in there for a bit," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "We scored a bunch of runs and I thought we pitched pretty well at times. So, I'm very happy to get a win tonight."
However, Upstate quickly gained the momentum back as a sacrifice fly by Blake Green quickly knotted the game at one run apiece.
The game remained quiet until the bottom half of the third inning. That's when Smoak took over. Back to back walks by Scott Wingo and Havens, sandwiched in between a groundout and a pop fly by Whit Merrifield and Harley Lail, set the stage for the first baseman. Smoak belted a mammoth homerun over the left centerfield wall to put the Gamecocks back on top, this time for good, at 4-1.
"He's (Smoak) been a great player since he got here. Earlier in the year people were saying Smoak was kind of average," Tanner said of his star player. "He's a good player. You're going to get him out sometimes, but he's going to get his hacks in there, too. It's not surprising to see a guy like that have a big night. I can't relate to that, but special players have nights like that. They don't take nights off."
After Dyson gave up a solo homerun in the top of the fourth, Carolina would pad their lead in the bottom half of the frame. With one out, Whit Merrifield laid down a beautiful bunt single on the third base line and Havens walked two batters later.
Lail followed by lining a single to right field, scoring Merrifield from second, to put USC up 5-1.
That's when Upstate's worst nightmare walked up to the plate in the form of Justin Smoak.
Smoak responded by belting his second three-run shot of the game, making it Smoak's first multi homerun game of the season and his six RBIs were a career high.
"We had the wind blowing in tonight," Smoak said. "I got a fastball to hit and I hit it well."
For the season, Smoak has 13 homeruns and 38 runs batted in.
However, Carolina was far from over in the inning, as James Darnell walked before Phil Disher retook the team lead in homeruns with 13, blasting the two-run shot over the left field wall, stretching the USC lead to 10-2.
All six of Carolina's runs in the inning came with two outs. In fact, 13 of USC's 14 runs came with two outs.
"That was great to see," Tanner said. "We did a great job over the weekend at Auburn putting balls in play with two strikes. We didn't strike out a heck of a lot and I thought the approach was pretty good. To see some guys score late tonight, that was big for us."
However, the most exciting moment of the night may have come from the mound. After a solid pitching performance by Dyson, who finished with a final line of five innings pitched while giving up five hits, two earned runs, two walks and four strikeouts, Jordan Coster came in for relief in the top of the sixth.
It was the redshirt junior's first appearance on the mound since March 27, 2007, as the Spartanburg Methodist transfer missed most of this season and last due to shoulder surgery.
"I've just got to be ready to pitch," Costner said. "I was ready to go when they called my name. I've been in relief since last Tuesday and it hadn't really worked out for them to get me in."
Costner responded by setting Upstate down 1-2-3 on ten pitches, two of them coming by strikeouts.
"I felt good. Coach was telling me I was working a little slow. I was like, "Well, I kind of had a lot going on in (my head)." If I went any faster, I don't think I would have been under control," Costner said. "Usually my game is to work a little bit faster, but I made an exception this time."
Despite his debut, Costner knew that he needed to focus on the basics to pitch well tonight.
"A lot was going on in my mind, but I was just trying to focus on strike one," he said.
After Upstate would score two runs in the top of seventh on poor pitching by Alex Burrell and Tyler Musselwhite, the Gamecocks, and mainly Justin Smoak, responded again in the bottom half of the frame.
After Reese Havens picked up his second RBI of the night when he singled in Justin Hopper, Smoak blasted his third three-run homer of the game, giving him nine RBIs for the night, which tied a school record, and helped push Carolina's lead to ten at 14-4.
All three round-trippers came with two outs and helped the Goose Creek, SC tie for the team lead in homeruns with 13 on the season.
Will Casey and Clay Mitchell would go on to close it out in the ninth inning, as they retired USC Upstate 1-2-3 to give USC the 14-4 domination and their sixth victory in a row.
Carolina now heads to Clemson, SC to face the struggling Clemson Tigers, who have now lost ten straight games after being downed by Western Carolina 6-2 tonight.
"It's just one of those things. They have a good team," Smoak said. "We've gotta go in there tomorrow and play well."
Tanner agrees that Clemson will be anything but a pushover, despite their struggles.
"You know the talent they have on that team. They've lost so many close games, and it's incredible," Tanner said. "But they'll be ready to go tomorrow. When we get together, it doesn't matter what the records are or what anybody is doing, it's South Carolina and Clemson. You can throw that out the window."
Taking the mound for USC will be senior Nick Godwin.
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