USC sweeps Vols with dominant pitching effort

Just like the Carolina bats, this one took awhile to get going, opening in a rain delay and with first pitch coming nearly two hours after the intended start time. The delay didn't matter for USC starter Tyler Webb or the rest of the Gamecock pitchers, who dominated Tennessee with a 1-hit shutout effort to complete the sweep with a 4-0 win.

Whit Merrifield and Scott Wingo each hit solo homers to help lead the USC offense.

"It was a good game for us, I though that we had competitive at-bats, I thought our guys were ready to play," said Coach Ray Tanner. "That being said we could've lost that game. Tennessee was right there until we scored a couple late today, they were right there to win the game, it was anybody's game. But I'm extremely proud of our pitching staff and our players as well."

Both offenses were dormant in the early going due to the excellent starting pitching with Tennessee starter Stephen McCray matching Webb pitch-for-pitch through the first 3.1 innings. The Gamecocks were able to get two hits in the 4th, but couldn't get a run across as Bobby Haney flied out to center to end the inning.

Haney, who was making the start at shortstop today and batting in the 9 hole, finished the day 0-4 at the plate to continue his frustrations since returning from injury. Jackie Bradley was another Gamecock that had a tough day at the plate, finishing 0-3 with a walk.

Webb didn't experience much frustration during his pitching effort today, as he held the Vols hitless until the 6th, and finally departed after getting a double play to Adrian Morales to clear the bases that inning. Michael Roth came in and struck out Cody Hawn to end the Vols half of the 6th and also end one of the few scoring chances for the Vols on the day.

"There were a lot of keys in that game," added Tanner. "Jay's play, Morales's play, Roth coming in to strike him out. And we had some good at bats late today."

The only hit for the Vols on the day came on a bunt by P.J. Polk, where Webb just missed making the play after slipping and sliding down on the wet infield turf.

The outing lasted 5 & 2/3 innings and tied Webb's longest outing of the year. He has now allowed just 2 earned runs over 10-plus innings dating back to last week's start.

The outstanding bullpen work that began on Friday continued on Sunday, with Jay Brown and Matt Price combining to pitch the final 3 innings in this one. After Brown worked a scoreless frame in the 7th, Price came in and got the Vols in order in each of the final two innings.

Brown also made a key play to end a Vol scoring threat with 1 out in the 7th. With Matt Hamaker on second base, Brown deflected a Blake Forsythe ground ball off his glove. As luck would have it, the ball bounced toward third, where Brown flipped to Adrian Morales to tag out Hamaker and end the scoring chance.

The Gamecock offense wasn't able to get anything at all off McCray until the top of the 5th, when Whit Merrifield led off with a big home run to left field. McCray entered the game with a 0.73 ERA, and certainly showed early on how he had gotten there, frustrating the Carolina hitters consistently over the first four innings.

"Coach told us before the game we needed to play it like a 5 inning game, because we didn't know how much we'd get in because of the rain," said Merrifield. "I was going up there trying to get on base and he left one fat for me, and I got all of that, I hit it pretty well.

In the 6th, Scott Wingo added a solo homer of his own just over the wall in left. It was Wingo's 3rd home run of the year, and his only hit of the afternoon.

Carolina added two insurance runs in the 9th, With Brady Thomas contributing an RBI double, and Adam Matthews bringing Thomas around with a single of his own. Thomas, Matthews, Wingo, and Merrifield each had 1 RBI for USC.

Christian Walker was 1-2 on the day, and Jeffery Jones also finished 2-3 at the dish on Sunday. The 4-0 lead was more than enough for Price in the 9th, who ended the game striking out Hamaker looking to end the Vols' afternoon and chance at a victory in this series. Price picked up the save for USC, his first of the year.

Tyler Webb picked up the win to even his record at 1-1 on the season, striking out 6 to go with just 3 walks.

McCray took the loss for the Vols despite hurling 5.2 innings of 4 hit baseball, and allowing just one earned run, on the Merrifield big fly.

The Gamecocks are now 3-0 in the SEC for the first time since sweeping Arkansas to open the 2001 SEC slate. USC will take its 10 game winning streak on the road this week, heading to Georgia Southern for a game Tuesday before traveling to Auburn for 3 games this weekend.

"Anytime you can sweep in the SEC it's huge," said Merrifield. "We're not going to be complacent, we're going to come out next weekend when we go to Auburn and we're going to try to win there too."

Scott Wingo also talked about how high confidence is among the team right now as they ride their current winning streak.

"Like I said, we don't take games off," said Wingo. "We could've maybe come in the park and not really showed up today but we take it one game at a time and I think confidence is really high right now."

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