South Carolina turned in a dominating performance Sunday afternoon to take the weekend series from Mississippi State. After a late rally fell short in Saturday's match, USC belted out 11 hits en route to a 14-2 shellacking of the Bulldogs. The Gamecock are now 22-6 overall, with a 7-2 record in the SEC. Mississippi State falls to 15-13 (3-6 SEC).
Sunday started out looking like anything but the 14-2 laugher it turned into. Gamecocks starter Jay Brown lasted just 3 innings, giving up 2 earned runs on 4 hits, but facing 14 batters. Both runs came off of solo bombs. Tanner pulled Brown after the 3rd in favor of freshman reliever Matt Price. Price pitched 5 innings of 2-hit baseball while striking out 6. He certainly made a case for becoming the Gamecocks go to closer, if not Sunday starter, for later in the season. Price lowered his ERA to an eye-popping 1.4 on the season. He is 3-0 after Sunday's performance. Tanner then handed over the final inning to freshman Ethan Carter, who pitched a 1-2-3 9th inning.
More analysis after the jump.
All in all, it was a successful weekend for the Gamecocks. The series versus MSU was a prime candidate for a sweep. Alas, the Gamecock fell just two runs shy of that feat Saturday. Timely hitting was again the nemesis as USC left 12 runners on base during the course of the game. Most of that is just baseball. The Gamecocks took 2 of 3, and if we continue to do that for the rest of the year we'll be national champions. But I have to say I don't completely agree with Ray Tanner's decision to pull catcher Kyle Enders in favor of Michale Roth with two men on base in the 5th inning Saturday afternoon. While it's true that Enders had struggled to that point in the series, those struggles amounted to a mere six at bats in one and a half games. The move only marginally paid off, with the Roth coaxing a walk. Roth is currently hitting .167 on the season. Enders, by the way, went 2-4 in Sunday's game. One batter later, Christian Walker was hit by a pitch to score the only run of the inning. The Gamecocks, arguably, paid for the move later in the game when MSU stole 3 bases after Brady Thomas moved from DH to catcher to replace Enders. Up until that point USC had not allowed a stolen base in SEC play, thanks in large part to Enders' strong arm from behind the plate. Enders' stolen bases against percentage is a much lower .417 as compared with Thomas' .800. Those stolen bases certainly hurt the Gamecock since all put runners in scoring position that later scored - not to mention the fact that had they been thrown out the innings would have ended earlier. Tanner certainly has his reasons, and he won more games in a baseball uniform Sunday than I will in a life time. I just don't think he "took the high percentage shot" to put it in basketball lingo.
"Seriously, Coach? You want me to steal second? Look at my thighs. Those gams would make Kim Kardashian jealous."
I also take issue with another strategy move surrounding Enders during Sunday's game. In the 3rd inning - after already scoring 4 runs - Ray Tanner put on the suicide squeeze play, directing Enders to bunt in order to score Adrian Morales from third base. Now, this strikes me as odd because, a) Carolina had been shelling MSU pitching up until this point, b) USC had a 4 run lead at this point, c) USC only had 1 out, and d) Kyle Enders is not known for his ability to leg out bunts for singles. The play ended up working out for USC when Morales scored as planned and Enders managed to reach first on a bungled throw by the MSU catcher. Remarkably, Tanner put the steal sign on for Enders during the next at bat. He was foreseeably thrown out by a mile at second. What would possess Ray Tanner to tempt the baseball gods after receiving a free runner on first, I do not know. Enders, by the way, has zero stolen bases on the year.
Still, a good weekend for the Gamecocks. One certainly can't argue with Ray Tanner's results. He won his 600th game as the Gamecocks' head coach on Friday and is just four games away from reaching the 1,000 game mark for his career. Carolina now turns its attention to College of Charleston on Wednesday before traveling to Vanderbilt for the weekend series. USC leads the all-time series with College of Charleston 41-5. C of C is coached by former Gamecock coach Monte Lee.