Dyson, Ebert guide Gamecocks to 7-2 win
The biggest sigh of relief as South Carolina sealed its 7-2 win over Georgia on Thursday night didn't come from the Gamecock dugout. It didn't even come from the fans. It came from the Chik-Fil-A sponsored strike zone in right field. If the game had probably gone any longer, they were going to run out of strikeout cards to put up.
USC starter Sam Dyson was the reason for that as the right hander struck out a career high 13 batters in his second complete game victory of the season. His previous high had come two other times when the sophomore struck out eight.
"People think I'm a strikeout guy with my stuff, but I don't consider myself as one. They just swung at some pitches that were out of the zone and that's what happened," Dyson said. "I felt like I could throw whatever I wanted today and that's pretty much what I did in any count."
Dyson's outing didn't have the making of a career day during the first inning as leadoff batter Matt Cerione took the third pitch of the game the opposite way to left for a solo home run that gave Georgia (35-18, 15-13 SEC) a 1-0 lead. The Bulldogs looked to be going for the runaway inning early as a Rich Poythress single, Bryce Massanari walk and Joey Lewis single loaded the bases with two outs.
However, the threat ended when Zach Cone struck out looking for Dyson's second looking strikeout of the inning to end the threat. For USC coach Ray Tanner, getting out of that jam looks like it might have been the springboard for not only Dyson but his team as a whole.
"They had a run home with Cerione's home run and then they get the sacks full and he's able to wiggle out of it. That was huge because even though it's early in the game it's deflating to go down 4 or 5-0 at that point and it could have happened with the kind of offense they've got," Tanner said. "He gets out of it 1-0 and you don't feel all that bad about it because you've got a lot of time left to make something happen. He was very, very special at times."
With the Cone strikeout, Dyson retired the next seven batters in order and picked up five strikeouts in doing so. Meanwhile, the Gamecock offense was doing its part as catcher Justin Dalles hit a solo home run to start the bottom half of the second that tied the game up at 1-1. Jackie Bradley, Jr. drew a one-out walk in the third to bring up Nick Ebert who quickly gave USC (35-19, 15-13 SEC) its first advantage of the night. The power hitting first baseman took a 2-2 offer from Georgia starter Trevor Holder to left field as Carolina went up 3-1. Georgia answered with Lyle Allen's solo shot to start the fourth inning and make it a 3-2 game.
But for Georgia the rally stopped there as Dyson faced the minimum number of batters after the home run and gave up only one base runner on a error by Bobby Haney at short.
Along the way, Dyson picked up his 13 strikeouts and held the top four of Georgia's lineup to a 2-for-15 day with both of those hits coming in the first inning. Coming into the game Cerione, Poythress, Massanari and Colby May were each batting over .300. The four finished the day with a single, home run and six strikeouts.
"I just put up my glove and he hit his spots every time it seemed like. He had all his stuff and he didn't try to overthrow and all his pitches worked for him tonight," Dalles said. "We just tried to mix it up, use both sides of the plate and it worked in our advantage."
With just a one run lead as the game wound down, the Gamecocks put the game away in the seventh inning. An infield single from Haney and bunting error from Wingo put two on base. After a Whit Merrifield out, DeAngelo Mack hit a chopper to second that wasn't cleanly gloved for an infield single to load the bags. After Bradley lined one out to short, Ebert stepped in forcing Georgia to go to the bullpen.
The Bulldogs called reliever Will Harvil out of the left field bullpen to face the power hitting Ebert with two out. The plan backfired as Ebert took a 1-2 offering from Harvil right back into the bullpen he had just come out of for a grand slam and a 7-2 USC lead.
"That last home run I hit, I got lucky. He hung a curveball there. It was the third one in a row he threw me so I put a good swing on it," Ebert said.
The home run gives Ebert 20 on the season, making him the eighth different Carolina player to have 20-plus in one season. (Justin Smoak and Steve Pearce had two different 20 home run seasons) The exclusive club is one Ebert didn't expect to be a part of, especially with his knowledge of the great players who have come through the university before.
"(Their pictures are) all over the weight room, on the walls and so everyday I see them. I see them up there," Ebert said. "(Baseball information director) Andrew (Kitick) just told me that I'm part of that 20-home run club which is just an honor to be up there... Honestly starting the season out I did not think I was going to hit 20 home runs. I don't think anyone thought that."
The win improves USC to 15-13 in SEC play on the year and ensures them of their 12 straight seasons of finishing at .500 or above in conference play. It also boosts the Gamecocks higher in the seeding for the conference tournament as they could possibly be as high as a No. 5 seed depending on what other teams did on the night.
It's a great place to be for Tanner after not being sure where they would end up earlier in the season.
"I think for a long time we were searching a little bit for some identity. We were playing hard, we had some good players and we'd have a good run or two and then not play well," Tanner said. "We've teeter-tottered a few times. Had that bad weekend at Florida but we've hung in there, we've played hard. We haven't won as much as we'd like but being realistic the guys have done OK."
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