Jose Mata was extremely effective in relief of starter Nolan Belcher, and Whit Merrifield drove in 2 and scored 2 in the dominating victory. Mata threw 6 complete innings, giving up just one run while striking out four.
"I'm just going to stay in there until Coach Tanner pulls me out," said Mata after the game. "So I was just trying to get my ground balls and fill the zone. Whatever situation Coach Tanner puts me in, I'm ready to do the job."
Coach Tanner said that he was proud of how Mata responded and gave the Gamecocks an opportunity to get back in the game after facing an early deficit.
"I was just looking for him to stop the bleeding a little bit, it was kind of ugly out there and he's been known to get a few ground balls for us and I was hoping that he'd come in and do that, and he got a bunch of them," said Tanner. "He just held them off and gave us a chance to get some runs on the board.
In limited action, Nolan Belcher struggled with his control, walking two and hitting one in just over an inning of work.
"I think he's pressing, I think he's going through a situation that sometimes hitters go through, and he's going through a difficult time as a pitcher," added Tanner. "But as I told him in the dugout later in the game, we're not going to give up on you; we're going to fight back and try to get things straightened out."
Valparaiso was able to break through in the second with the advent of two more Belcher walks, as he put the first two on base via base on balls. The runners moved on to second with a sacrifice, and both were able to score on an attempted squeeze bunt when Belcher fielded the ball and threw it into right field. Another error by third baseman Christian Walker allowed an extra run to score, and Valpo lead 3-0 before Jose Mata was called in to put out the fire.
A leadoff walk in the top of the third inning was the second straight for Mata, but he was able to escape without any damage after forcing Robbie Robinson to ground into a 1-6-3 double play. Another quick groundout ended the inning for the Crusaders, who weren't able to follow up their big inning with any runs.
A huge inning enabled the Gamecocks to turn a 3-run deficit into a blowout, scoring 10 runs in the bottom of the third alone to lead Valpo 10-3. The Gamecocks took advantage of two walks and three hit by pitches, as well as a bases clearing double from Adrian Morales and a 2-run home run from Whit Merrifield to open up the huge lead. Merrifield continued his hitting streak with the longball, tying the school mark of 25 games set by Greg Keatley in 1976.
He said after the game that he was proud of the team for capitalizing on Valpo's mistakes after failing to do so in the previous series.
"That's what makes a good team great is capitalizing on another team's mistakes, and taking advantage of runners in scoring position and we did a good job of that tonight," said Merrifield. "Obviously in baseball you fail more than you succeed, but you want to succeed when you have runners in scoring position."
Mata continued his excellent work into the 7th, retiring three straight batters to run his streak to 10 Crusaders retired in a row. Mata's streak ended when Kyle Muhlsteff led off the top of the 8th with a base hit.
Although Jose Mata came out of the game with 2 outs in the top of the 8th, the Gamecock pitching dominance continued, as Ethan Carter came in and after a walk struck out the last batter of the inning.
Already ahead by a comfortable margin, the Gamecocks padded their lead in the bottom of the 8th to increase their lead to a score of 12-4. Nick Ebert finally broke through in the game with an RBI single that scored Evan Marzilli, and Robert Beary was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to bring in the final run of the game.
Carter worked the top of the 9th as well, giving up nothing and the Gamecocks finished off the Crusaders by a score of 12-4.
It was a dominant game for the Carolina offense, scoring 12 runs on 9 hits, and they were aided by sloppy play from Valpo in the field, as the Crusaders committed 2 errors.
Both teams combined for 5 errors in a wacky game that definitely had the look of a midweek contest as Carolina recovered from a disappointing series against their in-state rivals.
In addition to Merrifield's big night, Adrian Morales also drove in 3 runs with a double of the top of the wall in the 3rd and Brady Thomas added 2 RBI's as well.
The Gamecocks will face Valparaiso at 2 p.m. tomorrow in a game that was moved up due to the threat of rain tomorrow afternoon and night. Jimmy Revan will get the start on the mound for USC.
Gamecocks use big inning to beat Valpo 12-4
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