Gamecocks secure series with 7-4 win over UGA

South Carolina picked right up where it left off Thursday night as starting pitching and timely home runs guided the Gamecocks a 7-4 win over Georgia, ensuring USC of a series victory over the Bulldogs.

In terms of déjà vu, the Georgia baseball team is probably living a nightmare. Again.

After being shut down by South Carolina sophomore Sam Dyson's 13 strikeouts on Thursday night, the Bulldogs received another does of quality starting pitching from the Gamecocks as freshman Nolan Belcher struck out 11 Bulldog players over the course of 6.1 innings worth of work and USC secured a series win with a 7-4 victory.

"In this league you can have your best stuff and get rocked and you can have your worst stuff and pitch well. So I just tried to go out there and make some good pitches and see what happens," Belcher said.

Belcher (4-3) started the game off quickly getting the first two batters to strikeout, setting the tone for the evening. Though he did give up a base runner in each inning, Belcher scattered the three walks, three hits and one hit batter he did allow to keep the Bulldog bats silent.

His 11 strikeouts on the night set a new career high, topping his nine strikeout performance set against Arkansas on April 4 which was also his first collegiate victory.

Last night, Georgia (35-19, 15-14 SEC) could not find an answer for Dyson's complete game effort. The first four batters in the Bulldog lineup were each hitting well over .300 with three of those players having double figure home run seasons. They didn't have that kind of luck against Dyson, combining to go just 2-for-15. Though the top four batters on the night had one change from the first game, they combined to go 1-for-10 with a single, sacrifice fly and six strikeouts. Four of those strikeouts came from centerfielder Matt Cerione who had a home run to start Game 1.

"Never would have thunk it. Just never would've thunk it. Dyson had great stuff, Belcher made some big pitches tonight. You just don't think that's going to happen," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "I'm glad our guys have done that well but that doesn't happen very often."

The Gamecocks (36-19, 16-13 SEC) wasted no time in securing the lead as DeAngelo Mack was hit by a pitch to put one on for last night's offensive hero Nick Ebert. After joining the 20 home run season club last night, Ebert got to work on adding to that number as he cranked an Alex McRee offering just to the right of dead centerfield for a 2-0 lead.

"It was unfortunate for him that he left that ball up to me and I put a good swing on it. I thought that I had it for sure but it was closer than I thought. The centerfielder almost made a play on it but a home run is a home run so I'll take it," Ebert said.

Carolina added another run in the second on an RBI single by Whit Merrifield to go up by three. The only run Belcher would give up came in the third as a hit-by-pitch against Miles Starr was followed two batters later by a Cerione strikeout. But he would take first base on a ball in the dirt that catcher Justin Dalles could not field. Rich Poythress then stepped up and hit a high shot to center that was caught on a falling down effort from Merrifield for a sacrifice fly that scored a run. However the Georgia base runners thought the ball had been dropped, causing confusion on the bases and allowing Merrifield to throw into Scott Wingo at second who tossed to first for the out.

With Belcher cruising along, the offense aimed to give him all the cushion he would need and the third inning did just that. Ebert drew a leadoff walk and was followed by Jackie Bradley, Jr. taking first on a hit-by-pitch. That brought up Dalles who picked up right where he left off last night, this time with a three-run bomb high and deep to left field for a 6-1 lead.

Mack's triple to start the fourth led to USC's final run of the day as Bradley would single him in to go up 7-1. The Bulldogs tacked on two runs against reliever Parker Bangs in the top of the eighth with a two-run double from Colby May that concluded the scoring for both teams. That brought on senior reliever Alex Farotto who gave up one run in the ninth but went on to shut down the Bulldogs. In total, the three USC pitchers combined to strikeout 15 Georgia players. For the weekend, the Gamecocks have already struck out 28 Georgia players.

"I guess it was 14 or 15 innings, I'm sitting there thinking we have really pitched well. We have really put ourselves in position to win games with our pitching and we haven't done that a lot," Tanner said. "We've had good pitching at times but we've had to play defense and score some runs. The last two days our pitching staff has put us in a position to win and that's what you like from your staff."

The win puts Carolina on a six-game win streak, with wins in nine of the last 10 games. It also keeps the Gamecocks in position for the No. 5 seed in the SEC Tournament's field of eight. After dropping four in a row to end April, the Gamecocks have been one of the hottest teams in the month of May which has Tanner immensely pleased.

"We needed to win down the stretch, that's no secret. We were under the gun and after the Florida weekend it was play well or you don't get to play at the end, it was real simple. And these guys responded and I'm very, very proud of them," Tanner said.

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