Smoak's three homers doom Terriers
The last time the Gamecocks and Terriers faced off, the stakes were much higher, as Carolina was looking to get off to a strong start in the 2007 NCAA Regionals last summer.
However, Carolina still looked to possess the same fire as they did on that late June night a year ago, as they crushed Wofford 10-1 Wednesday night at Sarge Frye Field behind a three home run performance by Justin Smoak.
"I got a couple pitches to hit," Smoak said. "I saw fastballs in tonight and every pitch I hit out tonight was a fastball middle in."
"You just sit over there in amazement that you can have three home run games," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "I guess now he and (James) Darnell have both done that in the same year. That's impressive."
Carolina (31-11, 11-7) got on the board early in the bottom of the first inning, as freshman Whit Merrifield did what he does best by reaching first on a bunt attempt.
After Merrifield stole second base, Justin Smoak blasted his 53rd career home run to right field, giving the Gamecocks the early 2-0 lead.
It helped extend the first baseman's hitting streak to 16 games.
Reese Havens also extended his hitting streak to 12 games in the second, as he singled in Andrew Crisp to push Carolina's advantage to 3-0.
With the offense slowly chugging along, the strong pitching of Sam Dyson (5-0) helped keep Wofford at bay.
The win helped keep Dyson flawless in five starts.
"It's pretty good (to be 5-0)," Dyson said. "Coming off a couple surgeries last year, I think it's pretty good to compete in the week."
The Terrier's (20-22, 4-11) had several chances to dent the scoreboard, but could never get the clutch hit against the big righthander.
Dyson pitched out of a one-out bases loaded jam in the second when he recorded back-to-back strikeouts. An inning later, Wofford got the leadoff guy on to start the frame, but Kyle Behrendt grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Dyson's troubles with location were quickly resolved after a visit to the mound by Tanner.
"They said to concentrate and throw the ball down and get strikes and focus more," Dyson said. "I was a little out of it. The crowd gets in it and gets on you, you're mind wanders a little bit and you've got to focus a little bit more."
USC continued to pad its lead in the bottom of the fourth on a solo home run by freshman Scott Wingo. It was his second in as many games and his third in the past week after having only one home run over the first month and a half.
"I'm just trying to go up there and get the swings in," Wingo said.
Despite his recent power surge, the story on Wingo continues to be his on-base percentage, which was at .495 before tonight's game, a difference of .302 from his batting average.
"I just try to go up there and not swing at balls," Wingo said. "I guess I've got a good eye, I don't know."
Wofford continued to struggle with runners on in the sixth inning. After Sterling Dye's bloop single gave the Terriers just their second hit of the game, Kyle Behrendt responded by grounding into his second 4-6-3 double play of the evening.
"We continue to get stellar pitching," Tanner said. "Sam Dyson had sort of a shaky second, but once he got through that he had pretty good stuff. He was throwing hard; he was in the low 90s."
USC capitalized on Wofford's struggles in the bottom of the frame, as they loaded the bases on an Andrew Crisp single and a hit-by-pitch and walk to Wingo and Havens, respectively.
That set the stage for Justin Smoak, who rocketed the first pitch he saw to left center for a grand slam, giving the junior two homeruns and six RBIs through six innings.
The grand salami gave Carolina an 8-0 lead and helped move the Goose Creek, SC native into sixth place all-time on the USC career RBI list.
Smoak seems to have been able to figure out the way pitchers have attacked him this season.
"They (teams this season) come hard in and go soft away," Smoak said. "Whenever they miss in, that's when you've gotta hit it."
It was the fifth grand slam by the Gamecocks this season, but the first for Smoak. It was, however, the third of his career.
The big lead helped Carolina give way to reliever Sean Wideberg, who replaced Dyson.
The final line on the freshman was six innings pitched while giving up two hits, walking three, striking out six and giving up no runs.
The outing helped Dyson lower his ERA from 5.57 to 4.33.
After Wideberg gave up a run in the seventh to cut the Carolina lead to seven at 8-1, Alex Farotto came in to pitch in the eighth inning.
Despite not receiving as much playing time this season as was initially expected, Farotto made the most of his time tonight as he struck out the leadoff batter in the eighth inning, then turned a 4-3 double play by none other than Behrendt, his third of the night.
After pinch hitter DeAngelo Mack knocked a single to right field, Justin Smoak stepped into the box.
One would think that the Terriers would pitch around him, but that didn't happen.
What followed was, to an extent, expected, as Smoak smacked his third home run of the night and ran his RBI count to eight.
The hat trick moved Smoak into fifth place all-time on the USC career RBI list, just 15 behind all-time leader Mac White.
"No question about it, I sort of take him (Smoak) for granted," Tanner said. "I'm into my third year doing that. I know next year is going to be a little bit different. I said it last week; he's just a guy that plays baseball. He comes out everyday. He's the same way all the time, whether he gets hits or doesn't get hits."
Craig Thomas closed out the game for Carolina in the ninth.
With the win, South Carolina has won three games in a row and 11 out of 12 since getting swept at Georgia.
USC now heads to LSU this weekend to face the struggling LSU Tigers.
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