Cooper makes quick work of Bulldogs

The pitches from Gamecock starter Blake Cooper were buzzing, and the bats came alive for South Carolina on Friday night, as they hammered Mississippi State to move to 6-1 in conference play. In addition to Cooper's big outing, catcher Brady Thomas added 2 home runs and contributed 4 RBI to help lead the offense.

From the outset, it was obvious that State's conference woes would not be easily solved against a team as hot as the Gamecocks. Bulldog starter Kendall Graveman would fail to record an out on his way to giving USC a lead it would not relinquish after the first inning.

After a home run by Luke Adkins gave State the early 1-0 lead, Carolina bounced back in a big way in the bottom of the first inning, scoring 4 times to take a lead that they would not relinquish behind the dominant pitching of Blake Cooper.

Cooper has established himself thus far in the Friday night role, and Coach Tanner said there is no reason to think he doesn't belong in that role with the way he has pitched.

"He was ready to do that, he worked extremely hard and he'd been our best pitcher while Dyson was a little bit behind," said Tanner after the game. "So, I don't have any reason not to pitch him on Friday night. He battles his rear end off, he always has, and he's better than he was a couple of years back."

After a single and consecutive walks to open the bottom of the first, Jeffery Jones got things going for USC with a 2-run single. Adam Matthews worked a walk to bring in another run, and Robert Beary got an RBI on an error by Bulldog third baseman Nick Vickerson.

That was all it would take for Cooper, who pitched 8.1 innings in the longest outing this year by a Carolina pitcher, and also his personal best for the season. Cooper got the win, allowing just 2 earned runs on 6 hits, with 7 strikeouts and a walk.

Cooper's last patch of trouble would come in the 3rd inning, when State loaded the bases and a run was brought in after he hit Bulldog star Connor Powers. However he responded with a big double play off the bat of Russ Sneed, and that was the last time the ‘Dogs would threaten.

Over the next 5 innings, Cooper would surrender just two singles, before finally departing with one out in the 9th inning, after giving up one more single.

But Cooper wasn't the only star on this night, as the Gamecock bats came alive for another double digit effort after an 11-5 win last Friday in Auburn.

"I thought we hit the ball well tonight," noted Tanner. "We had a couple of innings where we went pretty easy, but we ended up getting double digit hits and we squared up a few balls. Haney finally got a base hit out there, but he hit another ball hard tonight, and a couple balls were hit pretty well."

When the Bulldogs cut the lead to 4-2 in the 3rd, it was as close as they would get as USC got the run back on a Matthews triple and RBI groundout from Robert Beary.

In the 5th Brady Thomas extended the lead with the first of his two home runs, and gave Cooper a 7-2 cushion. When a Merrifield RBI single made it 8-2, Thomas stepped up to the plate and smacked another home run to complete the scoring and give the Gamecocks a 10-2 lead. Both home runs were high, arcing shots over toward the scoreboard in left.

Coach Tanner was complimentary of Thomas's hitting after the game, and especially the fact that Thomas was able to step up in a situation where some guys in front of him hadn't been producing.

Thomas finished with a huge night at DH, as he went 3-4 with 2 HR's, 4 RBI, and 3 runs scored.

"He gets us quality at bats, that's what he's done since he's been here in practices and scrimmages, he's one of those guys that makes it difficult on pitchers," said Tanner. "He's not an easy out, he'll take pitches, he'll run the count full, and he'll give you a quality at-bat. He's never had a lot of opportunities because of some guys in front of him, but some guys haven't been producing and he's gotten his chances and he's cashed in on it. He had some great at-bats tonight."

After the disaster for Graveman to start the game, Mississippi State reliever Caleb Reed went the distance for the Bulldogs, throwing all 8 innings, and giving up 6 earned runs on 9 hits with 4 strikeouts and no walks.

Jackie Bradley Jr. contributed a solid night at the plate as well, going 1-3 with a walk and scoring 3 runs. Whit Merrifield, Jeffery Jones, Adam Matthews, and Bobby Haney all scored for the Gamecocks as well.

The Gamecocks have now won 15 of 16 games, and have still only lost one home game all season in addition to winning 6 of their first 7 conference contests.

"I'm proud of where we are right now, but we've got a long way to go," said Tanner in describing the hot start.

With so many different guys stepping up when they're called on, Brady Thomas also said the Gamecocks are happy with being able to win with a myriad of different lineups.

"We've got a ton of ballplayers on this team, and we could put anybody out there and do the job everyday," said Thomas.

State falls to 2-5 in the SEC this year with the loss. Tomorrow's pitching matchup will pit Sam Dyson against Chris Stratton for the Bulldogs.

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