USC Rides Hot Bats to NCAA Opener Win 11-3

South Carolina didn't get to host an NCAA Regional in 2009, but they came to Greenville NC and made themselves right at home, knocking out 11 runs, 17 hits, and the 100th, 101st, and 102nd home runs of the season to clobber George Mason in a rain-delayed but satisfying 11-3 victory. Sam Dyson was not at his best but still limited the Patriots to 3 runs on 8 hits.

At a press conference on Monday, South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner proclaimed that his team was the worst hitting of the four clubs in the Greenville regional. On Friday after his team had dominated a George Mason team that came in with slightly better offensive numbers, he tried to back away from the statement a little, before finally asking, "Can I retract that statement?" to a laughing press gallery. He pressed his point: "Numbers wise, we didn't stack us as well on paper."

The mood was understandably darker for the George Mason team. "Disappointed is the understatement of the day," Patriots coach Bill Brown said. "We didn't play like a team competing to win this regional."

The game continued a remarkable streak, with it being the 17th straight time a South Carolina team has won the opening game of an NCAA Regional, stretching back to 1984. Tanner is now 48-24 in NCAA Tournament games as Carolina's head coach. Coach Tanner is 11-0 in opening games of NCAA Tournament play at South Carolina as well.

The Patriots (42-13) opened the scoring in the top of the first inning. With one out, Henderson drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch before Scott Krieger laced a single up the middle. The next batter, Justin Bour, doubled down the left field line, scoring Henderson and making the score 1-0. After hitting Ryan Soares in the next at bat, Dyson would get out of the inning, inducing a ground ball double play off of the bat of Ryan Davis.

South Carolina (39-21) put up its first base hit in the bottom of the third when Scott Wingo placed a bunt down the first base line that resulted in an infield single. He then advanced to second on a balk but was stranded as Modica recorded a pair of one-out strikeouts.

In the bottom of the fourth, the Gamecocks plated four runs on five hits and took advantage of two Patriot errors to take a 4-1 advantage. The scoring outburst was highlighted by Parker Bangs' fifth home run of the season, a two-run shot that also served as South Carolina's 100th of the campaign. The Gamecocks added to their lead in the bottom of the fifth, using a two-out, bases-loaded single that plated Bangs and Justin Dalles, who had both singled earlier in the inning.

After Nick Ebert reached on an error to begin the bottom of the sixth, Jackie Bradley, Jr. extended South Carolina's lead to 8-1 when he smashed his tenth home run of the season to right field. The Gamecocks nearly added to the advantage, notching consecutive singles with two outs, but Wingo grounded out to second to end the inning.

George Mason responded in its half of the seventh, using a one-out double from Henderson that plated Ryan Uphouse and Spencer Wiggins, who reached base via a single and a walk, respectively. Soares then stepped into the box with two away and runners on first and second, but struck out looking after a 13-pitch at bat.

South Carolina pulled one of the runs back in the bottom of the inning, when Ebert hit a solo home run to left field for his team-high 23rd of the year. That home run tied him for second on USC's list of single-season homers with Justin Smoak who hit 28 in 2008, and Joe Datin, who did the same back in 1985. Yaron Peters holds the all-time record with 29 homers in the 2002 season.

With two outs and the Gamecocks still batting, officials halted play when lightning they detected lightning in the area. By that point in the seventh inning when South Carolina led George Mason 9-3, every Gamecock but Andrew Crisp had a hit in the game. Crisp was at bat when the game was delayed due to lightning in the area. When he came back up to bat after the 80 minute rain / lightning delay, he made the Gamecock offensive dominance complete by promptly hitting a two run double to put USC up 11-3. Even pitcher Sam Dyson got a hit, when he hit batter Ryan Soares in the first inning.

Dyson did not get his first strikeout of the game until the second batter of the fifth inning. His day was done after he completed the 7th inning with his fifth strikeout of the day. He improved to 9-4 on the season. "Sam has been able to battle," Tanner said. "He hasn't really been able to pitch well on the road, as we all know, but he battled hard for us today."

South Carolina has now tallied 100 or more home runs three consecutive years and in seven of the last 10 seasons. Six Gamecocks have at least ten home runs this season.

The Gamecocks advance to the winner's bracket and will take on either top-seeded East Carolina or No. 4 seed Binghamton tomorrow at 6 p.m. The second game scheduled for Friday between East Carolina and Binghamton was postponed until 10 am Saturday morning. The loser of that game will almost immediately turn around and face George Mason at 2 pm.

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