Coop shuts them down, bats bail them out

This was one pitching matchup that certainly lived up to its billing, as starters Blake Cooper and Drew Pomeranz matched each other pitch for pitch through the first 7 innings of the game. Both came in as ace Friday night starters for their teams, and did not disappoint. Once Pomeranz exited, the wheels fell off for the Rebels as USC used a 5-run 8th inning to win the opener of the series 5-0.

Things didn't exactly get off to a smooth start for Cooper, who despite pitching a shutout, nearly didn't make it out of the top of the 1st unscathed. After two quick outs in the inning, Cooper hit Matt Smith, and followed that up by giving up a single before walking the bases loaded. However, he bounced back with a big strike out of David Phillips looking, setting the tone for the rest of his night.

With the win, Cooper improved to 7-0 on the year and lowered his ERA to 2.44. He also became the first Gamecock pitcher to throw a shutout since Aaron Rawl against Mississippi in 2005. Cooper matched Pomeranz with 10 strikeouts in his 9 innings of work, along with giving up 4 hits and a walk. Cooper also set a career high with the 10 K's.

"That was really a special outing (for Blake), and certainly you've got to give credit to Drew Pomeranz, he's everything he's advertised to be," said head coach Ray Tanner after the game. "He's tremendously gifted; he's powerful, very difficult. I told our guys before the game that Blake Cooper would give us a chance too; he'd keep us in the game. We've got to keep fighting, he'll keep us in the game, we've got to keep fighting, and we'll be in a close one and somehow figure out a win. But you can't say enough about Cooper's outing, he was extremely special."

Cooper said that once he righted the ship in the first, it was a fun environment to pitch in the rest of the way.

"I always struggle in the first inning, I can get out of that first inning and I should be fine," joked Cooper. "This was one of the reasons I came to Carolina was to pitch in a conference like this and face good lineups and good pitchers, so it was fun out there today."

Coming in Ray Tanner boasted about the accomplishments of Drew Pomeranz, who himself brought an undefeated 6-0 record into the game, and who was recently chosen as Baseball America's Midseason Player of the Year. Pomeranz did all he could do for the Rebels, firing 7 strong innings, giving up just 2 hits while striking out 10 Gamecocks.

Pomeranz did pitch around trouble a couple of times, as USC advanced a runner to third base in both the 6th and 7th innings before he responded with big outs in both cases. Prior to the 6th, Pomeranz did not allow a baserunner past second base, and didn't give up a hit until Whit Merrifield's bunt single in the top of that inning.

Amazingly, the Ole Miss pitching staff finished the game without allowing a single earned run.

Things were almost derailed by shaky Gamecock defense in the 6th, an inning that began with a strange site, a cat running onto the Carolina Stadium turf. The feline scampered past multiple people attempting capture before he was finally hauled in. It appeared the USC's defense might be suffering from the curse of the cat following the incident, but they were bailed out by a huge interference call with the Rebels threatening.

First, Kevin Mort reached base as Scott Wingo bobbled a grounder to second base. Next, it was Adrian Morales falling victim the curse, allowing Smith to reach, and put two on with nobody out.

Cooper got a big out as Snyder went down swinging for the first out. Next, Zach Miller grounded it to short, and the throw into second appeared to get away, but Smith knocked the ball away at second, and both him and the batter were called out on interference.

"I don't know exactly how the umpire saw it, but the runner went into second up with his arms up," said Tanner. "Anytime a runner is seen going into the bag with his arms up, and he's not on the ground, there's probably going to be a call. I think it was the right call."

It was the last time that Ole Miss would really threaten on the night, as they managed just two baserunners the rest of the way.

With Pomeranz out and Trent Rothlin coming in to relieve, the Gamecocks were finally able to get some offense going. Wingo and Merrifield opened with back-to-back walks before Jackie Bradley Jr. laid a bunt down the third base line, and Miller threw it away, allowing Wingo to score from second to give the Gamecocks a 1-0 lead. In this game, it was perhaps fitting that USC pushed the first run across without picking up a hit in the inning.

With Merrifield on third, Bradley Jr. stole second in front of a Nick Ebert walk that loaded the bases. Adrian Morales came up big, clearing the bases with a double into the right-center gap to break the game open and give the Gamecocks a 4-0 lead. As if to make the game even stranger, Kyle Enders picked up his first triple of the year, scoring Morales and increasing the margin to 5-0.

"It worked out for us a little bit, we got a four ball walk to start the inning, and it gave us a little bit of life, and it worked out, we had to scrap for some runs, and Morales came up with a big hit for us."

Cooper answered as he had all night long, striking out the first two hitters in the 9th before giving up a double and getting Alex Yarbrough to ground out to the mound to end it.

"It was just a hard fought game, everybody just kept battling," said Wingo. "We kept saying, keep battling and good things would happen, so it was big."

Rothlin picked up the loss for the Rebels.

The win improved USC to 27-7 overall, and 10-3 in the SEC.

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