Cooper's complete game sinks Rebs

The South Carolina baseball team defeated the Mississippi Rebels 4-1 in the rubber match of a three game series Sunday afternoon at Sarge Frye Field behind the pitching of sophomore Blake Cooper. South Carolina has won two straight SEC series and now heads to Greenville to play the Furman Paladins Tuesday night. Read inside for a full report on today's action.

It was apparent that Blake Cooper ate his Wheaties Sunday morning. The sophomore from Neeses, South Carolina, pitched a complete game for the Gamecocks (29-11, 11-7), as he was able to will his team to a 4-1 victory over the Rebels in front of 4,702 fans at sunny Sarge Frye Field.

"A complete game in college baseball is hard to come by, and he was great after 31 pitches, I believe, in the first inning," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "He settled in and he gave us a chance. We weren't able to score much after getting the runs early, but he made it stand up."

It was the first complete game by a Carolina pitcher since Mike Cisco pitched a complete game against Evansville in the 2006 NCAA Regionals against Evansville.

After struggling through the first inning of the contest, the right-hander dominated and baffled Mississippi batters over the next eight innings. A solo homerun to start off the ninth was the only run the Rebels were able to muster on the afternoon.

"They are really, really good and we had to be special today to win the series," Tanner said.

It didn't seem as though Cooper (5-3) would make it very long after the first inning, in which he threw over 30 pitches as he seemed to struggle with his command early on.

Cooper struck out Fuller Smith to start the game, but walked two of the next three batters and then gave up a single with two outs to load the bases.

"I always have trouble in the first (inning) for some reason, I don't know," Cooper said laughingly. "I try to bring the pitches from the bullpen to the mound and it just didn't happen that way, and I struggled with my command a little bit."

However, he induced a critical groundout to first baseman Justin Smoak to end the inning.

The Gamecocks made the Rebels pay dearly for their inability to score, as the first five batters all reached safely for USC in the bottom half of the frame.

Havens led off with a walk before freshman Whit Merrifield singled after Mississippi's first baseman wasn't able to keep his foot on the bag to tag the speedster out. Miscues on the play also allowed Havens to reach third.

Justin Smoak then extended his hitting streak to 14 games by driving a single past the diving second baseman to score Havens and to give Carolina the early 1-0 advantage.

James Darnell then forced a walk from Mississippi starter Cody Satterwhite (3-3) to load the bases for designated hitter Phil Disher.

Disher then lined a single towards left field, as the outfielder couldn't reach the ball in time and was forced to take the short hop on it, allowing both Merrifield and Smoak to score on the play, giving USC to 3-0 advantage.

Little did Disher and the rest of the Gamecocks know that those would be the only runs they would need.

"I was just trying to get a hit there with the bases loaded in that situation," Disher said. "Satterwhite being such a good pitcher as he is, we wanted to score early on him."

Disher knew that the runs would be big, despite it only being the first inning.

"You always want to score early on a guy like that, because if he gets in a groove, he can get dominant," he said.

Disher finished the day two for four with two runs batted in. He also had a double in third inning.

However, the Gamecocks were unable to push across any more runs in the frame, as the bottom half of the order continued to struggle.

Lail was called out on strikes, Enders reached on a fielder's choice as Darnell was tagged out at home, and Scott Wingo grounded out to the second baseman to end the frame.

However, Carolina would go on to pad their lead in the next frame as Havens doubled and Whit Merrifield singled yet again on a bunt attempt, as Justin Smoak was able to come to the plate with runners on the corners for the second straight inning.

Despite grounding into the 4-6-3 double play, Smoak was still able to get Havens home from third.

It was the second run scored by the shortstop on the day He finished the day one for two with two walks at the plate.

"Coop did a heck of a job today and kept us in it," Havens said. "We scored early and we stayed on top of it the whole time. So it was a big win for us."

Carolina was held in check over the next six innings, as the Gamecocks bats were unable to muster any more runs on the afternoon.

However, few fans were worried judging by the way Cooper continued to pitch.

Cooper, who threw 103 pitches, 71 of which were strikes, would retire twelve straight batters after Logan Power singled on a lazy grounder with one out in the third inning.

Little did the Rebels know that it would be their last hit until the seventh.

The streak of dominance ended with one out in the seventh inning when Zach Miller singled.

"I just think he started making some pitches on the corners, and he's got a pretty good breaking ball," Tanner said. "His fastball was sinking a little bit today; he threw some changeups to the lefties, and it all started working."

The single had little effect on Cooper, as he went on to force Tim Ferguson to fly out to left field and Brett Basham to ground out 6-4 to end the inning.

The Gamecock fans in attendance tried their hardest to will Cooper to a complete game shutout in the top of the ninth, but Cody Overbeck hit a solo homerun to start the inning to finally put Mississippi on the board.

Cooper was able to shrug off the homerun, and cracked a joke about it after the game's conclusion.

"Oh yeah (I knew the ball was gone)," Cooper joked. "As soon as he hit it, I just asked for another one."

It would have been the first complete game shutout by a USC pitcher since Aaron Rawl accomplished the feat, ironically, against Mississippi in 2005.

However, Cooper would go on to strike out Matt Smith and force Miller and Ferguson to pop up to end the game.

Carolina now heads to Greenville, SC, to face the Furman Paladins, to whom they lost 4-2 earlier in the season.

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