USC rally too much for Long Beach in 7-5 win
DeAngelo Mack put the South Carolina bus shuttle system that transports fans from the Colonial Life Arena parking lots to Carolina Stadium on notice – it is not safe to park on Williams Street.
Mack hit his first of two solo home runs on the day near a row of buses parked behind the right field wall as the No. 18 Gamecocks tallied four total solo home runs en route to beating Long Beach State 7-5 and securing a win in the series. The four home runs by Carolina (8-0) give them 13 for the season.
"We've got some guys in the middle of the lineup that can hit. You've got Parker (Bangs), Jeff's (Jones) able to hit home runs, (Nick) Ebert obviously from yesterday, Whit's going to put up a few home runs too," Mack said. "We've got some guys with a little bit of power."
For the second straight game, the Gamecocks would fall behind the Dirtbags (2-7) as TJ Mittelstaedt and Devin Lohman took starter Nolan Belcher deep on back-to-back at bats to give Long Beach a 2-0 lead.
Jackie Bradley Jr. notched USC's first hit on the team's second at bat and was eventually brought home on a base hit by Mack. The Gamecocks tied things up on the first at-bat of the second inning as Parker Bangs made his return to the lineup after sitting out the last two games as hitter. Bangs cranked a ball to left field and tied things up at 2-2.
Later in the inning, Nick Ebert hit what looked like an inning ending ball to short, but Lohman's toss to second for a force out landed in right field, allowing USC to score another run and take a 3-2 lead.
After LBSU used a two RBI double by Rylan Sandoval to go back ahead 4-3, Gamecock centerfielder Whit Merrifield got the team rolling in the bottom half of the frame with a triple on a ball that bounced out of the center fielder's glove as he hit the wall. Two batters later, Ebert would bring him home on a sac fly as Carolina tied things up at 4-4. "When I hit it, I knew the ball was carrying so I was just trying to get to third base. I heard the yells so I figured it had dropped and I just kept running," Merrifield said.
The next inning proved to be the back breaker as Mack broke the tie with his first solo shot to give USC a 5-4 lead they wouldn't relinquish. After spending much of last season as a player off the bench, coach Ray Tanner is happy to see Mack contributing at a high level so early in the season.
"He was intent on being a part of what goes on here. He didn't want to watch and he put his time," Tanner said. "When somebody makes an investment, it's hard not to believe that something can come out of it and he's getting a return right now. It's hard to keep the pace he's at, but it's hard to bet against a guy that makes such a great investment."
Carolina added to their lead in the next inning as Merrifield, who only hit three home runs last year, lifted his second long ball of the season over the fence in left field to help USC add an insurance run for a 6-4 lead. Both of Merrifield's hits on the night went for extra bases as he finished a single and double short of the cycle.
"I just got into a couple of balls, getting good pitches to hit and making good swings," Merrifield said.
The good swings continued for USC as Mack tacked on his second home run of the night to lead off the eighth inning.
That offensive output was all the USC pitching staff would need, especially the relievers. After giving up the two early home runs, Nolan Belcher settled in to go over three innings and give up just four runs. But it was the relief effort of Matt Price, who came in to strike out Lohman with the bases loaded in the fourth, and Alex Farotto that allowed the Gamecocks to pick up the win. In his second appearance, Price struck out three and only allowed two hits. That effort is what Tanner hoped he would give when they stuck him out there.
"We hate to throw you in the fire, but we think you're good enough to handle it," Tanner said he told Price prior to the game. "So he's probably been wondering why he hasn't had some opportunities and we feel like he's good enough to be in the middle of the action. There's no better time to face the learning curve than to be thrown in there against a team like Long Beach."
Farotto, who picks up his third save of the year, struck out five batters in 2.2 innings of shutout baseball to secure the win.
While the lineup has been shuffled a few times already in eight games and the pitching roles are not yet defined, Tanner hopes he will have everything figured out as the team moves through the season.
"We're still learning about our team a little bit. We've got some guys that are new. We're playing some guys that have been in the program but haven't had that much experience," Tanner said. "Eight games now but we're still trying to find out about guys."
- The two home runs by Mack give him six on the season after he hit just seven last spring.
- With a total of 12 strikeouts tonight, the USC pitching staff is averaging 10.25 strikeouts per game.
- The last multi-homer game for a Gamecock player belonged to Justin Smoak, who hit two against James Madison on June 1, 2008. It was Mack's first career multi-home run game.
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