Vandy Ends SEC Title Dreams for USC 7-5

Coming off a big win on Thursday, The South Carolina Gamecocks took on the Vanderbilt Commodores, with both teams facing elimination. The Gamecocks were looking to advance and play the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday morning. They fell behind early and their comeback came up just shy, as Carolina loses 7-5 and became the third team eliminated from the SEC tournament.

Their pitching did not hold up and the USC bats took too long to warm up, ending their hopes of winning the SEC tournament championship for the second time in their history.

Day three of the SEC tournament got under way this afternoon in Hoover, AL as the South Carolina Gamecocks opened up play for the third day in a row. Their opponent was the sixth seeded Vanderbilt Commodores. In a matchup of two teams fighting to stay alive in this double-elimination tournament, the Gamecocks came into this game with a lot of confidence.

With the offense firing on all cylinders and previous success against Vandy starter Nick Christiani, USC was poised to move on to face Ole Miss at 11:00 EST on Saturday.

Christiani disagreed and did his part by limiting Carolina to one run over six innings.

In his post game press conference, USC head coach Ray Tanner spoke a little about the Vanderbilt pitcher. "I thought he (Christiani) located well. He came up with a couple of big pitches when he needed to."

Reese Havens agreed with his coach and also thought Vanderbilt was deserving of a win. "Christiani did well," he said, "and Vandy played well."

This game got off to a slow start with both starters in control.

Sophomore right hander Blake Cooper made his first start of the tournament and was impressive early. Of the first seven batters he faced, Cooper only allowed one of them to reach base, striking out four. In the third inning, the ninth man in the order, designated hitter Jonathan White, was hit by a pitch. This would prove to be ominous. He then reached second on a wild pitch. Leadoff batter and center fielder David Macias singled White over to third. Cooper would then hit his second batter of the inning, loading the bases.

Blake was not about to give in to Vanderbilt's hitters, showing his fortitude by striking out the very dangerous Pedro Alvarez looking on a knee-buckling off speed pitch. After falling behind in the count to shortstop Tim Flaherty, Cooper ran into a bit of misfortune. With the runners on the move, Flaherty hit a soft grounder up the middle that had eyes. Shortstop Reese Havens was able to get to the ball but didn't have a play at first. Macias was able to score from second, staking Vandy to an early 2-0 lead in this one. Havens made no excuses following the game. "I tried to make a play and I knew I wasn't going to be too late to throw the runner out at first. I didn't get my head back up as Vandy's guy was rounding third. He ended up scoring. That's basically what happened."

Havens appeared to be blaming himself for the second run scoring, but his coach was quick to disagree. "It was a tough play with Macias running. It would've been tough to get him at the plate."

Carolina didn't wait long in getting one back. After Third Baseman James Darnell flirted with a dinger, hitting one just shy of the wall, Catcher Phil Disher hit an 0-2, two-out pitch over the left field wall for USC's first run of the game. Left Fielder DeAngelo Mack followed with a single, but the rally ended there as DH Parker Bangs hit a lazy fly to the right fielder.

Vandy did not waste any time scoring again when first baseman Andrew Giobbi hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the inning, extended Vandy's lead to 4-1.

The Gamecocks came into this game having surrendered only one multi-run inning in the first 17 innings of the tournament - the ninth inning fiasco against LSU. After taking that streak to 19 with the first two innings of this game, Giobbi's blast made it two consecutive innings in this game alone.

Cooper allowed a base runner in the bottom of the fifth who would steal second, and then struck out the next batter. That would be all on the day for Blake. He completed four and a third innings, gave up six hits, one walk, and had eight strike outs, hit two batsmen, giving up four runs with all of them earned.

Will Atwood would come on to relieve Cooper and try to keep his team in the game.

In the bottom of the sixth, Atwood gave up three runs, all coming with two outs, putting this game on ice… allegedly.

On the flip side, Vandy starter Christiani was sharp all day, limiting the Gamecock batters to one run on four hits.

The Gamecocks tried to mount something in the seventh when Bangs tripled with one out. Right hander Harley Lail followed with a walk.

That would be all for Christiani on the day, as Vandy head coach turned to right hander Chase Reid to put the fire out. On his second pitch, freshman Scott Wingo grounded into a tailor made double play, ending the threat and putting another goose egg on the board for the Cocks. This was another pivotal moment in the game, as USC stranded a runner at third with less than two outs.

Brandon Todd became the third Carolina pitcher on in relief for Atwood, and the Dores continued to press for runs. Todd gave up a single, a stolen base and a walk to the first two batters he faced. Those were the only two to reach as Todd settled down getting a ground ball and two strike outs.

Todd was the lone bright spot for Gamecock pitching today. In two innings he faced eight batters, giving up only a walk and a single. Tanner believes this a good sign, looking ahead to regional play.

"Our situation is a little bit different than it has been," Tanner said after the game. "Sam Dyson made a statement in this tournament. Nick Godwin has been solid now for weeks. Brandon Todd is throwing the ball well. He struck out four in relief today. So, hopefully we'll get a chance to play and be dangerous at the right time of the year."

South Carolina refused to go away, as the first two batters reached in the eighth. First baseman Justin Smoak made the first out of the inning with a sacrifice fly to left field scoring Havens, 7-2 Vanderbilt. Darnell followed with a walk, and with two on and one out, Disher hit his second home run of the game bringing the Cocks within two, 7-5. Disher had four runs batted in on the day.

That would end the day for Chase Reid. Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin would not take any chances, as he brought on a lefty to face the left handed batting Mack. Mack battled hard, fighting off several good pitches, but eventually went down swinging.

Then Corbin went to the pen again bringing on a right hander to face the right handed batting Bangs with the same results, leaving the Gamecocks down to their final three outs of the game.

Todd finished off the Dores quickly in the bottom of the eighth and Carolina came to bat for the last time in this year's SEC tournament.

Lail led off the top of the ninth with a strike out.

With only two outs left, Wingo did what he does best by getting on base with a walk. Reese Havens then hit a bomb to the warning track in right field for a noisy out, leaving USC with only one out.

"I knew I missed it," Havens said. "I hit it alright, but it's a pretty big ball park. I knew it wasn't going anywhere."

The last hope for Carolina was Merrifield, and he hit the ball on the button but right at the center fielder, ending Carolina's tournament run.

The baseball gods did not favor South Carolina on this day as the ball didn't seem to bounce their way. "That's just the way baseball is," Tanner would reason after the game. "I believe it evens out."

There are a lot of Gamecock fans that hope he is right.

USC made a valiant effort down the stretch, never giving up in this game, but came up just short.

Vanderbilt advances to play Ole Miss tomorrow at 11:00 EST, while Carolina makes the trek up 1-20 back to Columbia to await their fate for next week's NCAA tournament.

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