Gamecocks take series with 10-4 win
When the series finale between South Carolina and Auburn moved into the Gamecocks first at-bat, leadoff hitter Whit Merrifield was hit by the second pitch of the game. One batter later, DeAngelo Mack lifted a ball into leftfield for a two-run homer.
It was just that kind of day.
While everything wasn't perfect, the right things went right at the right times for the Gamecocks as they collected a 10-4 win over Auburn to claim their second straight SEC series and move to .500 in league play.
"It doesn't feel as good as we'd like for it to feel, but it feels better than it has felt. We started the year playing uphill. We go 1-2 at Mississippi State and we've been sitting there ever since. We get a win in the first game, we go back yesterday. Now we're there for a few days," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "I'm happy with this team in a lot of ways. We don't like to lose. We get frustrated, disappointed and analyze it too much, but these guys have battled hard. We're not as good as we'd like to be, but if you win another game you get a chance to keep playing."
The Gamecocks (26-14, 9-9 SEC) didn't hold on to that 2-0 lead for long as the Tigers (25-15, 8-10 SEC) scored a run in each of the next two innings to tie the game up.
But as quickly as Auburn rallied to tie it, the Tigers saw it taken away as Jackie Bradley, Jr. was issued a leadoff walk in the fourth. With Bradley on first, catcher Justin Dalles stepped in and took a 1-1 offering over the leftfield wall for the team's second two-run homer to give USC a 4-2 lead.
Auburn's Ben Jones responded with a solo shot of his own the following inning to make it 4-3. But the Gamecocks would blow things open in the bottom half of the frame as a walk to Merrifield and single by Mack put two on. After a Nick Ebert pop out, Bradley singled for a run. A wild pitch allowed Bradley and Mack to take second and third and a walk to Dalles loaded bases. That's when Andrew Crisp singled for two-runs to cap the three run inning.
USC pitcher Blake Cooper struggled in the early innings but settled in to throw 103 pitches and record five strikeouts in six innings of work. Combined with the two previous starters for the Gamecocks this weekend, the starting rotation tossed 358 pitches and only used relief pitching for 4.1 innings this weekend.
Cooper (5-3) used his breaking ball and off pitches to induce the Tigers to ground into three double plays on the day. The final double play came when reliever Curtis Johnson unknowingly snared a Jones line drive and picked off a runner at second in the seventh inning.
"When I'm going good, I'm usually getting ground balls and that's key for me to either get my two seamer working or changeups. If I can do that, I can get ground balls and get out of innings quicker," Cooper said.
Joseph Sanders did his best to cut back into the Carolina lead with an RBI single in the seventh, but once again the Gamecocks did an impressive job responding. Dalles led the bottom half of the seventh off with his second home run of the game as the leftfielder didn't even make a move and Dalles took a moment to admire his shot as it sailed out of the park. Crisp would pay for that showboating on the next at-bat as he was hit by a pitch. But USC used that along with two hits and a walk to load up the bases later in the inning and scored two more runs for their second three-run inning of the game to seal the win.
"We were hitting earlier in the year. It's just our hits were scattered out and we just couldn't stack at-bats. Coach Tanner was talking about that the whole season, just like let's start to stack at-bats and score some runs. We're starting to do it now, and it's starting to help us out a lot," Mack said.
For Dalles, it was a breakout game individually as he had gone 1-for-8 in the previous two games. The two home run, three RBI game put some confidence back in the junior who was recovering from taking a ball to the helmet earlier in the week.
"My timing was a little off, I'm not going to lie. But the ball was looking good the whole weekend and it looked good today," Dalles said. "I was just playing the game. You know that's how it goes. I was just trying to see a pitch I could hit and it turned out in my favor."
With mid-week games against USC Upstate on Tuesday and Clemson on Wednesday, followed by a trip to Florida this weekend, the Gamecocks have a chance to make a run in the conference standings and cement a bid for the postseason.
"The second half of the season, we got the first two weekend series right there with Ole Miss and Auburn just now, and it feels really good. We're just trying to wipe out the first half and take advantage of the second half in the SEC," Mack said.
- The four turned double plays by USC were a season high.
- The two home run game was the first career multi-homer game for Justin Dalles.
- USC now holds a 27-9 overall advantage over Auburn under coach Ray Tanner. They haven't lost a series to the Tigers since Tanner's first season.
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