USC finishes perfect in the mid-week

A nine-run seventh inning was all it took for South Carolina (42-11) to take down the Furman Paladins (16-34) by a 11-6 score in a game that initially began as a pitcher's duel but saw a good deal of offensive fireworks before all was said and done. Bobby Haney led the way for the Gamecocks at the plate with his grand slam in the bottom of the seventh inning.

If ever there was a game to look past, this was it.

With the Florida Gators looming and the SEC Championship on the line, Carolina took on Furman in a game with little significance on the season overall, but saw USC looking to build momentum heading toward that series.

However, centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. assured everyone that he and his teammates were focused on finishing this one the right way.

"It wasn't hard at all; we've been talking about it all week," said Bradley Jr. "We've got to take it one game at a time, and I'm glad we were able to get this one past us."

With the win, the Gamecocks finished a perfect 15-0 in midweek games. It marked the first time in the modern era the Gamecocks have gone through a year without falling in a week-day contest.

"Oh yeah, we were definitely thinking about that, (the) coaches had addressed it to us earlier, but we're trying to stay focused and not take anybody lately because if we do that we're going to let our guard down," said Bradley Jr.

Early on, this game had the appearance of a tight one, with Carolina starter Jay Brown and Furman's Barry Benton both working through the first two innings without giving up a hit.

Benton entered the game with a 0-5 record and a startling 10.16 ERA, but performed admirably against a strong Gamecock attack. The senior lefthander was able to stifle the Gamecocks into the sixth, giving up just two earned runs in his 5.1 innings of work.

After beating Furman by a 15-0 score earlier this season, some assumed this would be a cakewalk for Carolina, but Benton made sure it was anything but.

However, the Paladin bullpen was unable to contain the USC bats, and would use three pitchers in the decisive seventh.

Furman centerfielder Rob Fondu registered the first hit of the night for either team as he doubled in the top of the third, the only hit that Brown would give up on the evening. With the big series against Florida looming, Carolina was able to tap into its bullpen as well, using six total pitchers after Brown departed in the fourth.

Two Gamecocks were able to extend their hitting streaks in the third, as Bobby Haney ran his tear to five games, and Jackie Bradley Jr. picked up a hit for the sixth straight contest.

It was also an inning that saw Carolina break open a scoreless tie and finally move in front of Benton and the Paladins. Four hits helped lead the way, including an RBI single from Whit Merrifield and an infield RBI single contributed by Jackie Bradley Jr.

But the Carolina lead was short lived as Jose Mata gave up his first home run of the season, a shot off the bat of designated hitter Reese Wade to tie the game at two.

Both bullpens buckled down after that, with neither team scoring until the Gamecocks would eventually blow it wide open.

The Gamecocks loaded the bases in the fourth and appeared to be in great position to regain the lead, but Bobby Haney popped out in foul ground and Scott Wingo flied out to the warning track in right-center for the final out.

Carolina wasted yet another scoring chance in the sixth when Morales was thrown out trying to reach third on an Adam Matthews single. Brady Thomas was brought in to pinch hit for Enders, but grounded to the first baseman for the final out of the inning.

With the bases loaded in the seventh, the Gamecock offense finally came through, starting with Christian Walker's two-RBI single through the right side to break the tie. After an intentional walk to pinch hitter Jeffery Jones, Morales worked a walk of his own to score another run. To continue the scoring, defensive replacement Robert Beary came in and knocked an RBI single to give USC a 6-2 advantage.

After Brady Thomas continued the merry-go-round of Gamecock batters with an RBI single, Bobby Haney smashed a grand slam to blow the game wide open and make it 11-2 USC. When the inning was finlly said and done, the Gamecocks had scored nine runs on seven hits, and at one point had ten consecutive batters reach base.

It was Haney's second career grand slam and his third homer of the year.

Despite an 11-3 lead, the game was far from over and the usually solid Carolina bullpen had trouble closing the door on this particular in-state foe. Ethan Carter was charged with three runs in the ninth inning after walking two, and allowing a single to load the bases. Patrick Sullivan appeared in relief, but walked in a run on the first batter he faced, and allowed a two-run single before getting Will Muzika to ground out to third base to end the contest and give Carolina the 11-6 victory.

Steven Neff picked up the victory for USC in his one inning appearance, giving up no runs and striking out one. He improved his record to 2-1 with the win. Nick Karow was the loser for Furman, falling to 0-2 this season.

Next up will be the massive series against Florida that will determine the SEC regular season champion. Game one of the series is this Thursday at 7 p.m. Friday's game will also follow at 7, with the series finale coming Saturday in a 4 p.m. contest.

Coach Tanner said that his team will be aware of what's on the line this weekend, and are excited about playing in a series with such far-reaching significance.

"I don't feel like that I have to address that, even during any other weekend series," added Tanner. "We know the league that we play and how difficult it is, at home, on the road, the challenges. (The guys) know the circumstances from week to week and certainly they know what's at stake. I know they're excited about it, I know Florida will be excited as well, so hopefully we'll have three sell-outs and we'll go at it."

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