Darnell's grand slam lifts USC past Ole Miss

Riding high on a seven game winning streak and a season sweep of Clemson, the 10th ranked Gamecocks played host to 16th ranked Ole Miss. South Carolina came out strong behind some early hitting and cruised to a 6-2 series opening win. The Rebels sent staff ace Lance Lynn to the mound. Despite being undefeated, Carolina got to Lynn early and forced the Rebels to play from behind all game.


Last season in Oxford, Lynn dominated the Gamecocks. He struck out a career-high 12 batters en route to a three hit, complete game shutout. Friday night, the Gamecocks equaled that hit total and surpassed that run total in the first inning. Whit Merrifield started things with a bunt single. Justin Smoak, who was a perfect 4-4 on the day, followed with a single, and James Darnell added another single to score Merrifield.

"We were trying to stay out of the upper part of the strike zone," said Tanner. "If [Lynn] can get his fastball up, he's going to get it past you. We knew that we were going to have to hit it down in the zone or we're not going to hit it at all. We did it somewhat effectively."

The Gamecocks blew things open in the third inning. Scott Wingo led off the inning with a walk, and singles by Reese Havens and Smoak loaded the bases for Darnell. Before the at bat, Tanner called Darnell over to discuss strategy. The session certainly worked, as Darnell blasted a fastball over the wall in left center for his second grand slam of the season.

"I was just kind of reacting, I didn't know what to expect," said Darnell. "[Tanner told me] ‘Just be aggressive. You've got men in scoring position.' Anytime you're in that position you want to swing the bat and get a chance to drive them in."

Smoak added an RBI double in the fifth inning to complete the scoring for the Gamecocks. In all, Lynn gave up a season-high 10 hits, tied his season-high with 6 runs allowed, and struck out a season-low two batters.

"He's tough to hit," Smoak said. "He's a big guy who throws hard. You just never know what's going to happen. Some days you're going to get dominated, and you're going to dominate the other days. It's big on our part to get some hits off of him tonight."

The less heralded of the two starting pitchers, Mike Cisco was the one who picked up the win. Cisco gave up 8 hits, but scattered those over 6.2 innings and allowed just one run, adding three strikeouts. Cisco did it on a whopping 120 pitches, although his arm was not even iced after the game.

"Coach Tanner asked after the sixth, ‘Are you okay?'" Cisco said. "He told me my pitch count; I think it was around 108. I said let me go out there and get the first batter or two. I wanted to go out there. By this time in the season, I think the whole staff has done a good job of preparing for this kind of stuff. You want to be able to go that far."

The Gamecocks' winning streak is now at eight games. After the three game sweep at Georgia in which it mustered just five total runs, Carolina has won by an average score of 8-4 and scored at least six runs in every game. The pitching, which has been fairly strong all season, is now getting the type of run support most expected to see all year. Tanner has told his players the hits will come, and he has been proven right.

"Our guys feel like if we do what we're capable of doing, we'll have a chance to win," he said. "We don't come into it thinking that we're going to dominate anybody, but we feel like if we play defense like we're capable of and get a well-pitched game, we're going to get some timely hits and we'll have a chance to win. You just hope to do all the little things and stay in a position to win."


Notes:

- Since 1998, the home team has won every series between Carolina and Ole Miss 2-1.

- Smoak now has a 12 game hitting streak and is tied with Darnell and Phil Disher for the team lead in home runs, with 13.

- Game 2 of the series is Saturday afternoon at 4. The game will be televised by FSN South.


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