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Weekend Wrap-up: Gamecocks out-grit Kentucky to Sweep Series

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"Stay out of my strike zone or I will beam you... and two of your friends."
"Stay out of my strike zone or I will beam you... and two of your friends."

No, sir, that wasn't pretty. Sure, the South Carolina Gamecocks (22-5, 7-2 SEC) swept the Kentucky Wildcats (15-14, 2-7 SEC) this past weekend, but it was hard to watch at times. The two teams combined to score just 16 runs in 3 games, and before you start throwing around words like "pitcher's duel," keep in mind that the two pitching staffs also combined for a 2.18 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) on the weekend. And that's not even counting any of the 11(!) hit batsmen, 7 of which occurred on Sunday.

Friday night the 'Cocks witnessed what we've come to expect from junior left-hander Michael Roth (6-1, 1.44 ERA) - a near masterful performance. Roth pitched 8 innings, giving up 3 hits, 1 walk, and 1 earned run, while striking out 6. His counterpart, Kentucky freshman Alex  Meyer (3-4 3.10 ERA), had an equally impressive performance but was saddled with the loss, none-the-less. Meyer walked Mooney to lead off the 1st inning and followed that up by hitting Scott Wingo. The Gamecocks took advantage of the situation by scoring two runs, and that was all they would need. Meyer would go on to pitch a complete game and strike out 8 batters, but the Gamecocks would prevail 3-1.

Both teams' offensive struggles can be blamed, at least in part, on ineffective coaching. In the 7th inning, with Kentucky trailing by just 2 runs, Wildcats head coach Gary Henderson called for one of the most head-scratching plays I've ever seen in baseball. After the lead-off batter for Kentucky grounded out, the next batter was hit by a pitch. Henderson, for no discernible reason, instructed his batter to lay down a sacrifice bunt to move the runner to second. Now, mind you, the batter question - J.T. Riddle - was the best hitter on team. Riddle is currently hitting .342, with a .487 SLG% and a .435 OB%. I said in the weekend preview that Kentucky would probably give us some free outs, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine they would sacrifice their best hitter with 1 out and the tying run at the plate! Ray Tanner, for his part, called for a befuddling sacrifice of his own in the bottom half of the 7th. With Evan Marzilli already at second base and no outs, Tanner gave Peter Mooney the bunt signal in order to move Marzilli to third. Predictably, Marzilli advanced to third and the Gamecocks failed to plate a run in the inning.

More after the jump.

In game two, Carolina benefited from a solid outing from sophomore Colby Holmes (2-0, 3.91 ERA). Holmes pitched what I believe to be the longest outing of his career (although, don't quote me on that). After that the bullpen strung together five innings of 1 hit baseball and allowed just four base runners in total. Carolina added another fruitless sacrifice bunt to the list, but the real run-killer was probably the two base runners caught stealing in the 2nd and 6th innings. Of course, Carolina recovered and ended the game when Brady Thomas hit a walk-off single to score Adrian Morales in the 10th inning.Final score: USC 4 - UK 3.Pretty low-scoring considering the two teams had 11 and 8 hits, respectively.

The Sunday match would not be outdone for weirdness. A casual glance at the box score might lead you to believe that the Gamecocks cruised to their 4-1 victory. Not so fast, my friend. Kentucky stranded a total of 14 batters on the day. Nine of those runners were left on base three at a time to end the final three innings of the game. The good news is that Carolina might have finally found its third weekend starter in freshman Forrest Koumas (3-0, 2.1 ERA). Koumas, who was hospitalized for a severe allergic reaction to peanuts earlier in the week, pitched 6.1 innings, gave up no runs, on 2 hits, 1 base on balls, and stuck out 3. Oh, and he also hit 3 batters - as did John Taylor. It was a strange game to say the least.

But let's not forget the real point here. South Carolina swept Kentucky and is still in the driver's seat in the SEC. With Vanderbilt and Florida putting the spurs to their schedule, it was imperative that Carolina sweep Kentucky to stay in contention for the regular season title. Heck, even UGA is coming on strong these days.

After this past weekend USC is now 9th in the SEC in AVG. (.288), 3rd in ERA (2.73), 1st in SLG% percentage (.459), 1st in HRs (26), 2nd in BBs (125), 12th in stolen bases  and steal attempts (19 and 29), and 12th in double plays grounded into (5). The Gamecocks also lead the league in opposing batting average (.216) and fielding double plays (28). The Gamecocks may not be the most impressive looking team on paper, but they're finding ways to win and playing good fundamental baseball, for the most part. Peter Mooney appears to have snapped out of his error funk and the team seems to find a hero to rally around every night. If Evan Marzilli can snap out of his slump and we can get Stephen Neff back from injury, this team will be looking very good heading into the final half of conference play.

But before that happens the Gamecocks will face USC Upstate on Tuesday night. The Gamecocks own the brief series with the Spartans 5-0. Even though they claim a not-so-impressive 11-18 record, don't sleep on the Spartans. They've carded victories against Charleston Southern, Furman, and Stetson so far this year,  and could easily steal a mid-week game from a tired Gamecocks squad. Stat tuned for our preview of this weekend's series versus Tennessee, which starts on Thursday.

 

Go 'Cocks!