Gamecocks sweep doubleheader with USC Upstate
South Carolina coach Ray Tanner had been saying all season that he hoped his team would peak at the right time and be in the mix as things began to wind down. He appears to be getting just that. After securing a bid to the SEC Tournament's field of eight teams with two wins against Tennessee over the weekend, the Gamecocks returned to Carolina Stadium for a mid-week doubleheader with USC Upstate.\
The Gamecocks picked up a sweep with wins of 6-3 and 9-2 over the Spartans and are in the midst of a four-game winning streak with just three regular season games remaining. For Tanner, it's the perfect time to be hitting that kind of stride.
"Obviously it was a very productive night for us to be able to pick up a couple of wins against a team that we talked about with our (guys) the last the couple of days and tried to prepare them that this team had been playing really well in the last couple of weeks," Tanner said. "What I didn't tell them was they had won four of their last six. They'd been averaging nine runs a game in those six games and they'd been hitting about .360 as a team. They'd really been playing well and I thought they had some good at bats tonight."
Carolina (34-19) ran into a little trouble in the first game of the day as Gamecocks took a 2-0 lead in the first but saw the Spartans (14-37) tie the game with runs in the second and third innings. The game wouldn't remain deadlocked for long as the Gamecock bats responded with four runs in the third inning. DeAngelo Mack became the first base runner with a one-out walk and scored on a Jackie Bradley, Jr. triple to allow USC to retake a 3-2 lead. After Justin Dalles was walked, third baseman Andrew Crisp hit a ball off the top of the wall in right field for a three-run homer to give the Gamecocks a 6-2 lead.
Starting pitcher Jay Brown was pulled after just over two inning worth of work for right hander Parker Bangs (3-2). The sophomore made his appearance count as he allowed just one run over 4.2 innings worth of work and struck out five to pick up his third win of the season. Bangs also notched a two-run double in the second game.
"It just all seems to be going my way right now. I'm just a really relaxed hitter on the field," Bangs said. "I'm just trying to relax and do all that I can to help the team as much as possible."
After a 45 minute break, the Gamecocks and Spartans took the field again for Game 2 as USC started freshman pitcher Adam Westmoreland. The left hander earned his first start since a rough relief effort against Florida over two weeks ago. The Lexington native threw up 5.1 innings of solid work allowing just two runs on seven hits while striking out seven en route to pick up his fourth win of the year and improved to 4-2.
Much like the first game, the Gamecocks jumped out to an early lead with a 3-0 posting in the first inning. But the Spartans would rally with two runs in the third to trim the Carolina lead down to a run at 3-2. Crisp provided the response in the bottom half of the frame as he hit a two RBI double to put USC up by three again at 5-2. With the game still in doubt in the bottom of the sixth, USC loaded the bases with two singles and a walk and scored two runs on a walk and sac fly. But Crisp came around to do the damage yet again with a two-out, two-run double that finished the scoring for the night. For the two games, the senior finished 3-for-6 with seven RBI.
Crisp's home run in the first game gave USC a total of 90 on the season. The Gamecocks did hit 110 last season but lost over 80 of those to the MLB Draft. With five players already in double figures for home runs, the continued power at the plate doesn't surprise Crisp.
"Coming into the fall a lot of people thought we were going to lose home runs because we lost some big bats last year. But we actually hit more home runs in the fall than we did last fall so I'm not surprised man," Crisp said. "We've got some good players. We've got a bunch of young players, a bunch of new players that are adding additions to this team. But as far as power, it's kind of sneaky power. You don't really see anybody that's huge up there, except for Ebert, but other than that. It's shocking to a lot of people but not to us."
The four-game win streak is the longest for the Gamecocks since winning four straight in a stretch on March 15-20 against Mississippi State, Davidson, Furman and LSU. The Gamecocks are now winners of seven of their last eight games and are trying to shore up that NCAA Regional bid. Crisp points to another example of playing well at the right time as a motivating factor for the Gamecocks who are looking to make a regional for the 10th straight time.
"We want to play good in the end. Look at Fresno State (last season). I don't want to say they were terrible but they might have been the last pick to get into a regional and they went ahead and won. They got hot at the right time. We want to do that," Crisp said. "The games that we lost, we can't do anything about them now. You just want to get hot at the right time. It's coming up to the end of year so hopefully we can stay hot."
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