Wild offensive day ends in USC series victory

Records fell at Carolina Stadium on Sunday, as South Carolina (34-9, 16-5 SEC) exploded to beat Alabama (28-17, 9-12 SEC) 20-15 on a day where both offenses were rolling. With the win, Carolina maintains a one game lead over Florida in the SEC East.

Wild. Crazy. Unpredictable. Insane.

None of those words even begin to describe the game that took place at Carolina Stadium on Sunday, as South Carolina won its tenth straight SEC series in a game that resembled batting practice more than anything else.

When all was said and done, the two teams combined for forty-one hits, thirty-five runs, and nine home runs. It was certainly not a day for the pitchers, as the teams also combined to use fourteen pitchers, with Tyler Webb getting the win in relief for the Gamecocks. The twenty-five hits for South Carolina was not only the most in Carolina Stadium, but the fifth highest under Ray Tanner and most for USC since a 2009 contest against Kentucky.

"Our kids battled," said USC associate head coach Chad Holbrook after the game. "These kids want to win. As a coaching staff we've been very, very proud of them. They've handled adversity well, they tend to respond. It's a team that's fun to coach."

With Ray Tanner sick today, Holbrook was responsible for a lot of the decisions made on the baseball field.

Holbrook also said that despite the fifteen runs, he was proud of how the USC pitchers fought on a day when the wind was blowing out, making the longball a big factor in the game.

"It was a tough day to pitch, a very, very tough day to pitch," added Holbrook. And our pitchers battled. Matt Price gave us a chance when things didn't look so good. Ethan Carter battled, got some swings and misses on his slider. We were able to finish the game relatively clean all things considered, conditions were extremely tough. All in all, a great weekend for us, and I'm proud of our team."

Things got off to an unassuming start, with starter Jay Brown holding the Crimson Tide scoreless in the top of the first and getting a 2-0 lead thanks to a Jackie Bradley Jr. home run in the bottom of the inning.

The early Carolina lead was quickly erased in the second inning as Jake Smith ripped a home run into the bleachers in left to cut the USC lead in half, and Brock Bennett brought Cal Tinsley around with an RBI single.

USC was able to regain the lead in the second thanks to a little bit of luck. With Kyle Enders on first, Scott Wingo ripped one down the line that bounced of Clay Jones' glove at first for a double. With runners on second and third, Whit Merrifield delivered an RBI single by beating the throw to first.

Jay Brown's day came to an early end as he lasted just 2.1 innings before giving way to Jose Mata with runners on first and third. Thanks to two errors, Alabama took a 5-3 lead through two and a half innings, but the day was just getting started.

In the bottom of the inning Kyle Enders cut the Bama lead with a two out RBI single to score Morales and trim the Crimson Tide advantage to one run.

Alabama added three more in the fourth, and appeared to take control of the game before Carolina would hold an offensive clinic over the next two innings. All three runs came via the longball for the Tide, with Josh Rutledge contributing a solo shot and David Kindred knocking a two run blast.

It didn't take long for Carolina to fight back and continue this wild affair, scoring six runs in the bottom of the fourth to take a 10-8 lead that they would not relinquish despite all of the offensive fireworks that were still to follow.

Whit Merrifield said that with the conditions today and the way the team has battled all year, the players had no doubt they could recover from the early deficit.

"The ball's flying today and we felt good at the plate," said Merrifield. "We knew we'd get back into it. Yesterday we were kind of upset we scored two early and didn't really score after that. Today we jumped on them and scored every inning but one. We've fought back all year from behind, so it's nothing that we haven't been a part of before."

Bradley Jr. knocked in Wingo with an RBI single, before Brady Thomas came in to face the righty Townsend and pinch hit for Parker Bangs. He did not disappoint, as he hit a huge three-run home run to right that tied the game and firmly swung the momentum back to Carolina's side. After that, Kyle Enders and Adam Matthews had RBI hits to extend the lead to 10-8.

In a day full of offensive highlights, Kyle Enders would go on to perhaps have the best day, finishing 5-5 at the plate, hitting his first home run of the year, and driving in five runs.

"I think he just got a little bit confident today in batting practice," noted Holbrook. "Things kind of went his way, he just felt comfortable today. He was one of the most important players on the field today, catching in that heat, that many pitches thrown, the way things were going, and also to get five hits; it's a great credit to Kyle. I didn't see anything different fundamentally; he just had a good day at the plate that started today in batting practice."

Carolina finally held the Crimson Tide scoreless again in the fifth, setting the stage to blow the game open and take the series into their control.

Whit Merrifield made perhaps the most unconventional trip of the day around the bases, singling to start the frame before stealing second and third and scoring on a past ball with Christian Walker batting. Adrian Morales had an RBI double and Matthews brought in a run with a sacrifice fly before Enders smashed a home run into the left field stands for a 15-8 lead.

Over the course of the fourth and fifth inning, the Gamecocks really took out their aggression on Alabama pitching, scoring eleven runs on eleven hits to blow it open.

Thanks to the pitching of Matt Price, Alabama was unable to score in the sixth. However, Brett Whitaker also held the Gamecocks scoreless in the bottom of the inning. It was the only inning in the game in which neither team scored a run.

After he terrorized Gamecock pitchers for much of the first two games, Taylor Dugas was 0-4 heading to the seventh inning, just another unusual stat in this contest. Dugas, who came into the game with a .573 on-base percentage, made up for it, blasting his first home run of the season for a three-run shot to cut the Carolina lead to 15-11. It was his first home run in 331 at-bats, and gave Bama season high in home runs with four. They weren't done though, as Clay Jones added his thirteenth of the year in the ninth inning.

"Dugas, he's a tough out, and even tougher to strike out. Our bullpen's been terrific all year, and they gave us a chance today."

Not to be outdone by Enders, Evan Marzilli added his first home run of the season, a two-run shot to run the lead up to 17-11.

Still the offense was not done, and USC got RBI singles from Thomas, Morales and Enders to complete their day at the plate, and led 20-11.

"Our kids swung the bats well. We had some breaks and things went our way," said Holbrook. "It was our day offensively. Alabama is a good team, they have some good arms. It was just a tough day to pitch. And we had some success, and we were able to get twenty-five hits. The wind blowing out, routine fly balls were home runs and to our credit we were able to score more than they did, and I guess that's the name of the game."

Jake Smith had an RBI single for Bama in the eighth, and Rutledge contributed an RBI single before Jones's homer made it 20-15.

With Ethan Carter unable to close it out, Michael Roth got pinch hitter Brandt Hendricks to finally end this game.

Coach Holbrook said he was very proud of the way the team has played in winning every SEC series this year.

"That's a heck of an accomplishment for our players," said Holbrook. "This league is so difficult; you can get swept anytime, anyplace. And for us to not have lost a series is a credit to our players. The way our pitchers have pitched and the way our hitters have come up with big hits in timely situations. Over the course of 21 (SEC) games it's a great accomplishment for our team."

Tyler Webb picked up the win in relief for USC, throwing 1.2 innings, and still getting the victory despite giving up three earned runs on two home runs. Taylor Wolfe took the loss for the Tide.

The Gamecocks will play a home game with Winthrop on Wednesday before hitting the road for the first of two straight SEC road series, taking on Kentucky in Lexington next weekend.

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