Godwin leads USC to game two victory
USC will face Tennessee again Saturday in the rubber game of the three-game series, hoping to beat the Vols for the second time in as many nights and guarantee a trip to Hoover, Ala. for the conference tournament.
Making his second straight start in SEC play, Nick Godwin (WP, 6-3) was incredible in a pressure-packed situation, going 7.1 innings and giving up four runs (two earned) on seven hits. The senior from North Augusta, SC cruised through the middle innings, retiring 10 batters in a row and 14 of 15 at one time. Godwin faced 33 batters, throwing 126 pitches and 80 strikes.
South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner was extremely pleased with Godwin stepping up in a key situation.
"He was very good. He probably deserved a little better fate than it ended up being with the runs on the board. But I'm proud of Nick Godwin, a guy that started the midweek (games) for us," Tanner said. "In probably one of the biggest games of the year, if not the biggest, and he gave us a quality start. He gave us a chance to win."
The fact this could have been one of the last times Godwin was able to put on a USC uniform served as motivation for the senior righty.
"I just hope we put a little fire in our team. I'm a fifth-year senior, I don't know about everyone else, but this is it for me if we don't win a couple of games. I just tried to come out and do my job and give us another day," Godwin said.
Godwin got just enough help from the Gamecock hitters, as six of the nine USC starters had hits, though only Phil Disher had more than one. What looked to be a pitcher's duel was busted wide open in the fifth inning.
"That was one of those situations, we hadn't been in too many big innings this year, and that turned out to be big for us," Tanner said. "We were patient at the plate and got a couple of opportunities in there and were able to push some across. I thought the (Whit) Merrifield double down the line scoring (Scott) Wingo kind of got it going for us, and we had some good things happen after that."
At the time, Tennessee starting pitcher Bryan Morgado (LP, 5-5) had retired ten USC hitters in a row and had given up just two first-inning runs on two hits. Freshman DH Parker Bangs then stepped in and got the Gamecocks going, blasting a solo shot over the left field wall for his second career home run. That shot seemed to get to the big southpaw as he struggled with his control from that moment on. After a Harley Lail groundout, Morgado put Scott Wingo on base with a walk. Morgado then got Havens to line out to center field, and just as it looked like Tennessee would get out of the inning relatively unscathed, Whit Merrifield knocked an RBI-double down the left field line scoring Wingo all the way from first.
Tennessee then walked Justin Smoak intentionally and James Darnell unintentionally, loading the bases for Disher. Morgado's control problems then bit him again as a wild pitch scored Merrifield, putting South Carolina up 4-1. UT intentionally walked Disher, loading the bases again, this time for Drew Crisp who had struck out in both of his at-bats up until that point. The junior left fielder did not waste time making Tennessee pay, as he lined a first-pitch curveball into center field scoring two and putting USC up 7-1.
"We were looking when we had runners on at what they were going to pitch us, and they basically threw us all off-speed (pitches)," Crisp said. "Coach Lee talked to me and said, ‘Just sit curveball, if he throws a fastball just take it.' Well, he threw first pitch curveball so that's the way it was."
USC scored all of its runs in just two innings, starting off the game with a two-run first to go along with the big fifth inning. USC went a combined 5-of-9 at the plate while drawing five walks in those two innings, while delivering only two hits in the other seven innings.
Tennessee would double their score in the seventh on a mammoth solo home run by Danny Lima, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Lima, UT's seventh hitter in the order, combined with the eighth and ninth hitters to go 6-for-12 on the night with both of the team's two RBI. Godwin gave up just two hits to UT's top six batters in the order.
Just when it looked like USC would cruise to a five-run victory, Tennessee made it interesting again in the top of the eighth. A leadoff single by Cody Brown and an error on the normally reliable Wingo at second base gave the Vols runners on first and third with nobody out. After a huge strikeout, Tanner elected to pull the tiring Godwin for Bangs who moved from the DH spot to the mound. After a quick first out, Tennessee right fielder Josh Liles knocked a big chunk out of the USC lead with a three-run jack to center field, making the score 7-5 after eight.
Tennessee then refused to go away in the ninth. After leadoff batter P.J. Polk grounded out to Darnell, Bangs surrendered a four-pitch walk to Shawn Griffin bringing the tying runner to the plate in Tennessee's best hitter Kentrail Davis. Coming into the night, Davis had 13 home runs and was hitting .332. With 4,861 fans at Sarge Frye Field holding their collective breathe, Davis hit a towering shot that eventually fell harmlessly into the glove of the right fielder Harley Lail. For the second time in the inning, Bangs then surrendered a four-pitch walk. Tanner brought in left-hander Alex Farotto whose dramatic 2-2 curve ball froze first baseman Jeff Lockwood and brought the crowd to its feet as the strike out gave USC the hard-fought SEC win.
The Gamecocks will now face Tennessee again Saturday in the rubber match of the three-game series at 4 p.m. at Sarge Frye Field. A win over the Vols will guarantee USC a spot in the SEC tournament, whereas a loss would put the Gamecocks' fate in the hands of some other SEC teams.
If South Carolina does lose Saturday, they will have to hope Kentucky beats Ole Miss for the third time this week, which would also send them to the tournament.
"We've got two options. We've got two opportunities to go (to the tournament) now," Tanner said. "But the best thing to do is to come out, play well, and win the game. And that's what we're going to focus on. We know we can control that part of it, so it would be nice to get a win tomorrow and know you're going to continue to play."
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