USC Falls Short Against Pack in Raleigh

The South Carolina Gamecocks fell behind early, fought back to take the lead, but could not hold on, as they fall to the losers' bracket in the Raleigh Regional, losing to the NC State Wolfpack at Doak Field Saturday night. Trailing 3-1, the Gamecocks took the lead 4-3 in the sixth inning, but would eventually surrender two more runs and come out of this one on the wrong end of a 5-4 score.

NC State did not throw their ace, Clayton Shunick, on Friday night, opting instead to hold him for Saturday‘s likely matchup against South Carolina.

At the post game press conference, Ray Tanner spoke of the State pitcher and his performance. "I was extremely impressed with Clayton Shunick. He's got great stuff. He struck out eight. We had a pretty good approach against him, but he was very good."

Shunick got off to a quick start, striking out Reese Havens to begin the game. The Gamecocks mounted a rally, getting the next two batters on base; but couldn't push one across, as Shunick struck out James Darnell and Phil Disher looking to get out of the inning.

Five of the Gamecocks' first six put outs were by strike out, as Shunick was in control.

In the State half of the first, South Carolina starting pitcher Nick Godwin got off to an inauspicious start, as leadoff batter Dallas Poulk homered to right, getting things started for the Pack, 1-0 NC State. Godwin would settle down after that, to retire the next three batters.

As for the Gamecock offense, they were unable to take advantage of base runners early, leaving three on base in the first two innings.

A double play squandered another opportunity for Carolina in the third inning.

An error in the third by shortstop Reese Havens opened the door for the Wolfpack, allowing Tommy Foschi to reach first base. After stealing second, Drew Martin of Gastonia, NC, grounded out to second baseman Scott Wingo, pushing Foschi over to third. Poulk then drove in NC State's 2nd of the run game with a single to center.

USC finally broke through in the top of the fourth inning, when, with two outs, D-Mack drove a line drive over the right centerfield wall for USC's first run of the game. Mack had another big game for Carolina and spoke about his approach to his new role as the starting left fielder. "I don't come any different (to the ball park). I come as if I were sitting on the bench. If I get in the game, I'm going to do what I need to do."

Tanner has been pleased with Mack's contributions of late. "He's been giving us a lift. Since we've inserted him into the lineup, he's brought some energy and performance down at the bottom of the order."

In the bottom of that inning, NC State got their first two batters on base, but center fielder Marcus Jones failed to move the runners over, popping up a bunt to Phil Disher. First baseman Pat Ferguson picked up his teammate, singling to left, giving the Pack a 3-1 lead.

With two on and only one out, Godwin buckled down and got out of the inning with no further damage, striking out the next batter and coaxing Foschi into an inning ending ground ball to Scott Wingo.

The Gamecocks wasted little time getting that run back, as Whit Merrifield singled to center, scoring Wingo. Merrifield was thrown out at second, trying to stretch the hit into a double, but the run did count. That hit was Merrifield's third hit on the day, making him 3 for 3 with an RBI through the first five innings.

This game continued to seesaw back and forth, and in the Packs' half of the inning, they fought back, getting two runners on, with a hit and an error; but Carolina was able to escape without surrendering a run. Godwin struck out left fielder Jeremy Synan looking for the third out of the inning, and as Synan pounded his bat on the plate in protest of the call, he was promptly tossed from the game by home plate umpire Ken Eldridge.

In the sixth, the Gamecocks were able to rally with two outs and take the lead 4-3. Disher got things started with a two-out single, followed by a walk by Mack. DH Parker Bangs hit a soft hopper to shortstop Tommy Foschi, who made an errant throw to first, allowing Disher to score. Right fielder Andrew Crisp then singled Mack in for USC's fourth run of the game, and giving Godwin his first lead of the game. Third base coach Monte Lee waived Bangs home, but he was gunned down at the plate, ending the inning.

Godwin would not make it through the next inning, leaving this game after five and a third innings. He gave up six hits and four runs, three earned. Godwin left men on second and third with one out, and turned over the reins to senior right hander Brandon Todd. After Todd was able to strike out the first batter, he walked pinch hitter Dominique Rodgers, throwing a wild pitch and allowing the tying run to score from third. That run would be charged to Godwin, closing the books on the senior righty. Poulk would ground out to short, ending the inning.

"I think Nick battled hard for us," the Gamecock Skipper said. "He battled and kept us in the game. We had our opportunities to win."

The two teams continued their struggle, as Scott Wingo reached on a walk and was sacrificed to second, bringing Shunick's day to a close. The Wolfpack ace was strong on this day, allowing four runs with only two earned. Pack head coach Elliot Avent turned to his bull pen to silence the USC bats. The next three Gamecock batters faced three different pitchers.

The Wolfpack pen did their job getting out of the inning without giving up a run. At the seventh inning stretch, this one was all knotted up at four.

State kept the pressure on in the bottom of the seventh, and with one out, five straight Wolfpack batters reached base. Even with four singles and a walk, they only managed to score one run. Yet that one run would be enough, as it proved to be the winning run in the match up.

The Gamecocks could not get anything going in their half of the eighth, as Bangs hit into a 6-4-3 double play.

Left hander Craig Thomas came on in relief for Carolina and got the first two outs of the inning. Jordan Costner relieved Thomas, getting the final out of the eighth.

Carolina came to bat in the ninth inning facing their first loss of this double elimination tournament.

Andrew Crisp led off with a soft grounder to second, one out.

Scott Wingo then hit a liner to right that was caught on a diving play by right fielder Dominique Rodgers, two outs.

The last chance for Carolina came to the plate in Reese Havens. Havens hit a ball on the button, up the middle, that was snared by second baseman Dallas Poulk, sprawling to his right for the final out of the game, sending USC into the losers' bracket to play James Madison on Sunday afternoon at 1:00.

This was a well-played ball game with both teams fighting hard. "It was one of those games that every pitch seemed to make a difference," Tanner said. "Every pitch was important, and they came up one run better."

NC State will play the winner of the USC/JMU game at 6:00.

The Cocks have a tall order to win this regional, and as Ray Tanner said, "It ain't going to be easy."

They will need to defeat James Madison Sunday afternoon, then beat State Sunday night and again on Monday.

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