Big Second Sets the Tone
Omaha, Neb. -- Nobody really expected it. The Gamecocks had been inconsistent offensively all season long. And it was just two days after Carolina scored just three runs against an Oklahoma team that was said to have no real ace.
But that didn't seem to matter as the Gamecocks strung together hit after hit in their biggest inning of the season in the second inning of Tuesday's elimination game against Arizona State. Arizona State starter Merrill Kelly came into the game with an outstanding 10-2 record and a 3.57 ERA, yet there he stood in utter disbelief as the Gamecocks stroked a season-high eight hits – including four in a row – in one inning, and pushed across eight runs.
"Yeah, [it was] definitely stunning," Arizona State senior Kole Calhoun said. "For the most part, we've got great quality starts by all our starters all year long. So when we're on our heels, down eight runs, it's tough. It will get to you. It makes you think."
The Gamecocks' assault on the Sun Devils' psyche started when third baseman Adrian Morales led off the inning smashing the first pitch into center field for a line-drive base hit. Catcher Kyle Enders followed that with a bouncer up the middle that snuck just past shortstop Drew Maggi. Following the only major Gamecock blunder of the inning –when Bobby Haney failed to bunt the two runners over – Scott Wingo lifted a double down the left field line that bounced around in the corner scoring the Gamecocks first two runs of the Game.
"Huge, huge, huge," Tanner said shaking his head about the at-bat. "He had a great start to the season. He's scuffled at the end. He has trouble hitting the ball to the other side of the field. He's worked extremely hard. He's tireless. … When he hits that double into the corner and scores two runs, you feel pretty good."
But the Gamecocks were not finished. Freshman Evan Marzilli then roped a single into left before Whit Merrifield floated one over the first baseman's head for the third run of the inning. That set the stage for Jackie Bradley, Jr. whose opposite field shot got up just enough to drift over the left center field wall.
"I was just actually looking to drive him in, get a sack fly somewhere," Bradley said. "And he made a great pitch. It was low and outside. I just happened to stay back on it, put a good swing on it and it was wind-assisted a little bit. So it happened to work out."
The three-run blast was Bradley's second home run of the tournament and stretched the lead to 6-0.
Following a Christian Walker line-out and Brady Thomas bouncer up the middle, Morales capped the inning he started and became the first Gamecock batter since Steve Pearce to have two hits in an inning with his towering two-run shot off the top of the left-field foul pole.
"I was trying to fade inside the ball, because I have been pulling off lately," Morales said. "I was trying to stay inside the ball. And he was able to throw me a changeup middle in. I hit it, I hit it good, and I was watching it, making sure it hooked inside the pole and it was able to hit the pole."
The offensive explosion left the Gamecocks with an eight-run lead and a huge cushion for starter Sam Dyson on the mound. In one of the most efficient innings you'll ever see, Carolina tallied five singles, a double and two home runs, and left no runners on base.
"I thought they did a heck of a job of putting us on our heels, and I think you have to do that in a game like this where you lose and you go home," Arizona State head coach Tim Esmay said. "And I think the team that kind of takes control of that and is the aggressor and puts you on your heels, it really makes it tough for you to battle up [and] climb."
Dyson Battles Through
Everybody knew it. If the Gamecocks were going to find a way to extend their stay in Omaha for at least another game then it was obvious it would have to come on the arm of junior starting pitcher Sam Dyson.
And while it was an eight-spot from the offense in the second that provided the spark to push the Gamecocks past Arizona State. It was Dyson's gutsy effort across 7.1 innings that allowed Carolina to hold on for the win.
"Sam Dyson was outstanding," Tanner said. "If you look at his line score, it's impressive."
Dyson's line shows that he gave up four runs – though two came from runners he left on base for Matt Price – while giving up eight hits and two walks.
While Dyson maintained it wasn't his best start of the season, in arguably the biggest start of his career, the junior fireballer did just what he had to do for the Gamecocks to have a chance to win.
Facing a wounded Arizona State team that hadn't lost two games in a row all season long, Dyson battled all day against a lineup of outstanding hitters – a lineup that featured just two batters hitting under .300.
"The fact that he only had three or four strikeouts against those guys, against a lot of teams, he would have had eight or nine strikeouts today, maybe even ten," Tanner said. "That's how good that team is. He pitched really, really well, and they kept fighting back."
Despite an early eight-run deficit the Sun Devils didn't back down. It took them an inning to gather themselves, but the Sun Devils had a runner on base in every inning past the third. And in five of those innings the Devils had a runner in scoring position.
But Dyson (and later reliever Matt Price) would not give in.
"The key was," Tanner said, "I've said many times to our team, we'll give up some runs but let's not give up the big inning. They tried to make it a big inning a number of times, and we were able to get some pitches or a play to stay out of it. But they got -- Arizona State has a tremendous club, and I knew that you were going to have to get 27 hard outs, and that's what it ended up being."
Dyson worked through 22 of those hard outs masterfully despite a humid and hot day that claimed the home plate umpire in the later innings and despite not having his best stuff.
"My slider, curveball was rarely over the plate," Dyson said. "If it was, it barely got swung at. Just worked around the plate, got some swings and jammed a few guys.
"But I was just throwing the fastball changeup primarily. That's what got me out of some jams."
And that's what gave the Gamecocks a chance to keep playing.
"Talk about grinding one out," Esmay said. "I mean, I felt like we had opportunities every inning, and I felt like -- I didn't feel like he really breezed through any inning. But you look up and 100-and-some pitches later and he's battling and making pitches when he needed to, and that's a performance that I'm sure they're proud of, because he was a warrior out there today."
Big inning, Dyson scorch Arizona State
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