Gamecocks bat the ’Dores around

Five-run third inning sparks South Carolina to series-opening win

Special to The StateMarch 30, 2012 

USC's Christian Walker celebrates his home run in the fourth inning during the Gamecocks game against Florida at Carolina Stadium, Friday, March 23, 2012.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

— It didn’t seem to matter too much Friday whether Vanderbilt pitched to South Carolina slugger Christian Walker.

The junior hit two home runs in a game for the first time in his career, but his presence in the lineup would have been enough as No. 11 South Carolina won the series opener against Vanderbilt, 8-3, at Hawkins Field.

Walker hit a home run to left in both the first and seventh innings.

“I think I did it in high school maybe one time, but it’s usually like I got one (homer) a game, and that’s about it,” said Walker, who leads the Gamecocks with five homers. “I’m seeing the ball well, and everything’s working out.”

With two outs in the first inning, Walker crushed Kevin Ziomek’s pitch into the top row of the left-field bleachers for a solo home run.

With first base open in the third, South Carolina’s offense did its most damage when the Commodores intentionally walked Walker to load the bases.

That could be a sign of bigger things to come.

Brison Celek stepped to the plate and hit a two-run double off the left-field wall, and the next batter, Erik Payne, hit a sacrifice fly to drive home Walker.

“I grabbed the unicorn by the horns. It worked out all right,” said Celek with a smile as reporters laughed at his unusual phrasing. “Getting a good knock like that always helps the team out.”

In all, the Gamecocks (19-7, 2-5 SEC) scored five runs in the third inning, sparked by a pair of bunt hits to lead off the frame, and took a 6-0 lead. The Commodores (10-16, 2-5) would never get close. Celek’s presence behind Walker in the lineup proved to be no laughing matter.

“It was good to see,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “You have to think of it a little bit now when you’re trying to get around Walker cause Celek will show you in (batting practice) that he can hit them a long way.”

The third-inning outburst was the first time South Carolina’s lineup had batted around since the fourth inning of last month’s 13-1 win over VMI — the third game of the season.

Walker added a two-run homer in the seventh, a towering shot over Hawkins Field’s 35-foot-tall left-field wall, that pushed USC’s lead to 8-2.

Gamecocks starter Michael Roth (3-0) did not give up a hit in his first three innings but allowed three runs. Matt Price entered and picked up his first save of the season, getting Roth out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the seventh inning to preserve USC’s 8-3 lead.

“A hit here, a single there, a walk, and all of a sudden it’s 8-7,” Tanner said of his decision to bring in Price. “We’re not in a position to leave a guy like (Price) over there. It’s incredible to get out of a bases-loaded, no-out situation.

“I’ve seen him do it once before, but that’s hard to do.”

Ziomek (2-4) took the loss for Vanderbilt.

With a win Saturday in Nashville, South Carolina will clinch its first conference series of the season. The two-time defending national champs lost their first two league series, at Kentucky and at home against Florida, to start conference play.

Right-hander Evan Beal (1-2) will get the start Saturday for the Gamecocks, who will face Vanderbilt righty Tyler Beede (0-3).

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