Pack Ends Season for USC with 2-1 Squeaker

South Carolina ended their first game of the day on a thrilling walk off home run by Reese Havens in the bottom of the ninth inning. Two hours later as the first batter to face NC State, Havens opened that game by hitting another home run. Unfortunately for USC, that would be their only score of the game, and NC State won the NCAA Regional 2-1, ending USC's season.

South Carolina would need to beat NC State twice in order to advance to the next round; but it would never get past the first game, as they lose to State for the second time in this regional by a single run. It was Carolina's second game of the day. Coach Ray Tanner spoke of the toll that took on his team. "It was a long day and we battled hard, but NC State was the better team."

In his post-game press conference, Tanner made sure to give North Carolina State their due credit. "Congratulations to Coach (Elliot) Avent and NC State. They were very, very good right up to the last play."

USC was the home team in this one per NCAA tournament rules, as they were the visitor in the first meeting with North Carolina State.

Will Atwood got the call from Coach Tanner and got off to a fast start. He set down the first nine Wolfpack batters, helped by a stellar defensive play by shortstop Reese Havens. Havens gobbled up a ball to his right flipping it side arm to Justin Smoak at first. Smoak helped out his teammate stretching to receive the ball, just nipping the runner at first, to the ire of the Wolfpack faithful.

Left hander Eric Surkamp started for State and came into this game with a 5-2 mark and an ERA 4.39. He was not as strong as his counterpart in the early going, as USC hitters got several good swings against him. After Havens' home run, the Gamecocks knocked the ball around the park but could not score. The Pack defense helped out their pitcher by making timely plays behind him.

Once again, Surkamp allowed two more base runners in the bottom of the third when, with two outs, he hit two consecutive batters, bringing this weekend's hero for Carolina, DeAngelo Mack, to the plate. For the second time in the game, Mack stranded two batters, flying out to center to end the inning.

Atwood allowed his first base runner of the game in first baseman Ryan Pond, who reached on a base on balls in the fourth. The Cocks then flashed some more leather, as Matt Payne ripped a shot into the left center gap that Whit Merrifield was able to track down, keeping State hitless in this game.

After being thrown out of yesterday's game for arguing balls and strikes, left fielder Jerry Synan's return affected this game greatly when he led off the fifth with a solo blast to right field, tying the game and ending Atwood's no-hit bid.

Tommy Foschi followed that with a single to center. Second baseman Dallas Poulk then walked.

Atwood has had some trouble of late staying away from the big inning, and this appeared to be that inning for him. But with two on and no outs, Atwood battled the next three Wolfpack batters and made sure no more damage was done, getting out of the inning with the game tied at one.

Tanner knew that pitching was the key to this game, saying, "We got a great pitching performance tonight from Will (Atwood) and the guys in the bull pen.

He then acknowledged State's pitching performance by saying, "They stopped our offense a little bit, and we weren't able to make it any more interesting than it was."

With no outs and a 2 and 1 count on Merrifield, play was suspended in the bottom of the fifth when there was lightning in the area.

After a one hour and 19 minute delay, play resumed and right hander Sam Brown replaced Surkamp on the mound for NC State. The State bull pen would turn out to be the difference in this game.

Brown was effective in his first inning of work, getting through the heart of the Gamecock order, Merrifield, Smoak, and Darnell, 1-2-3.

In a surprise move by Tanner, Will Atwood returned to the mound for Carolina.

"When they let us back on the field, I tossed it around a little and felt fine," Atwood said after the game. "We talked about it and we felt good about that decision."

Atwood looked good but did get into a little trouble. After getting center fielder Marcus Jones to hit into a tailor-made double play back to the mound, Atwood hit Wingo at second but the ball got stuck in his mitt, allowing the batter to reach first. Synan, who had already homered off Atwood in this game, came to the plate. Atwood did not give in to him, forcing Synan to hit his pitch and eventually walked him. With two on, Foschi grounded harmlessly to short to end the inning.

After the Gamecocks went down in order, State once again mounted a rally. With one out, they were able to get back-to-back singles, once again testing the mettle of Atwood. He was up to the challenge, as DH Devon Cartwright fouled out to Smoak for the second out of the inning.

That would be all for Will Atwood, as he gave USC exactly what they needed - a chance to win. He would go 6 and 2/3 innings, allowing five hits, striking out six, and only giving up two base on balls. He also gave up two runs, both earned. Atwood would take the loss in this one, as Parker Bangs allowed one of the inherited runners to score the winning run.

Bangs came on in relief, trying to get his team back in the dugout, still tied at one. He would walk the first man he faced, loading the bases. The next batter hit an 0-2 pitch just far enough out of the Havens' reach to keep him from having a play at any base, giving the Pack a 2-1 lead. That would be all they needed, as their bull pen silenced the Gamecock bats for the rest of this game.

Tanner talked about the effectiveness of their pen. "They mixed and matched in the bull pen very well. Those guys had to make pitches when they came in and they did. They did one heck of a job… very impressive." Kyle Enders got the Gamecocks going with a leadoff single in the 7th. That would be the first hit surrendered by the Wolfpack bull pen in 12 and a 1/3 innings, a streak that dated back to the first game of the ACC tournament.

Wingo would sacrifice Enders over to second, bringing Havens to the plate, with the tying run at second. State head coach Elliot Avent would decide that Brown's day was done and turned to left hander Drew Taylor out of the pen.

First baseman Justin Smoak came to the plate with two outs and runners at first and third later in the inning. With the count 2 and 2 and the crowd on its feet behind its pitcher, Smoak could not get it done, popping it up to short center field.

That ended Carolina's last real threat in the game. Smoak would later say that he got a good pitch but just got under it. "It happens," he quipped.

Left hander Alex Farotto came on and got the Pack 1-2-3.

NC State went to their dynamic pen again, bringing on right hander Kyle Rutter for the bottom of the eighth. He got the first two batters and yielded to Alex Sogard, another reliever, for the lefty/lefty match up against Mack. The Gamecock left fielder went down swinging and USC was down to their final three outs.

After State went down quietly in the ninth, USC came to bat for the final time of the season. Harley Lail was the first batter, and flirted with a home run to right that sailed foul, but drew some gasps from the home crowd. He was not able to follow it up, as he would go down swinging.

Enders was next, and flew out to short right field.

The Gamecocks' last hope was Scott Wingo, who grounded out to third, ending USC's season.

NC State was able to win this regional scoring only a total of 12 runs. Carolina scored 15 in their first game. Pitching was NC State's strength, and they played to it, advancing to super-regional play.

In possibly his last game in the garnet and black, Reese Havens summed up this season of high hopes for this baseball team in just a few words, "We fell short of the goal."

NC State will await the winner of the Georgia/Georgia Tech game played tomorrow in Athens, GA, while the Gamecocks return to Columbia to begin their off season.

Gamecock Anthem Top Stories