Westmoreland, USC blank Cougars

Pankake raises average to team-leading .341 with three hits

nwhite@thestate.comApril 4, 2012 

University of South Carolina's Adam Westmoreland pitches against Wofford in the first inning at Carolina Stadium.

C. ALUKA BERRY — caberry@thestate.com

— On a Wednesday night when the wind was blowing out at Patriots Point Field, South Carolina left-hander Adam Westmoreland kept College of Charleston in the ballpark.

And the No. 11 Gamecocks gave him all the support he would need – led by shortstop Joey Pankake’s two doubles and solo homer – on the way to a 7-0 victory over the Cougars.

“We played really well. It was one of our better games of the year,” USC coach Ray Tanner said.

USC (21-8) upped its all-time series lead to 45-5 over the Cougars (21-9). The Gamecocks play host to Tennessee in a three-game SEC series that starts Friday night.

Westmoreland picked up his second win of the season by throwing 5 1/3 scoreless innings. The junior, who lowered his ERA to 1.93, allowed two hits and one walk while striking out three.

“It felt good today. I tried to go out there and get ahead and work in some more off-speed stuff against a good-hitting team. I tried to keep them off-balance,” Westmoreland said.

His goal was to pitch as deep as he could into the game to save arms for the weekend series.

“I try to eat up as many innings as possible. That way we have everybody ready,” Westmoreland said. “We want to have the bullpen ready to go.”

He isn’t concerned if this kind of outing will get him consideration for a weekend start. Tanner appreciates his veteran pitcher.

“I’m happy with what he’s been able to do for us. When he’s been out there, he’s given us four or five quality innings, which is important,” said Tanner, who noted the team’s pitching depth is taking another hit with sophomore right-hander Forrest Koumas out for a few weeks with a sore elbow.

Fellow left-handers Tyler Webb and Nolan Belcher completed the shutout over the final 3 2/3 innings.

“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Adam Westmoreland. I thought he did a really good job,” Charleston coach Monte Lee said. “He filled the strikeout zone up and kept the ball out of the middle of the plate. Their bullpen did a great job, too. Their tempo was good on the mound. They threw the ball well.”

Pankake, who scored three runs, hit his second home run of the season in the seventh inning to push USC’s lead to 5-0. Evan Marzilli also extended his streak of reaching base to 29 games with an RBI double in the eighth inning that upped the lead to 6-0. The pair has proved very effective while batting one-two in the order with Marzilli leading off.

“We don’t really talk about it. (Marzilli) seems like he’s on every at-bat. That’s what it feels like,” Pankake said. “I’m just trying to follow up and get him over or even get him in.”

Pankake boosted his average to a team-leading .341 with the three hits.

“I want guys to take their hacks, and I think Joey has figured that out,” Tanner said.

With two runs in the sixth inning, South Carolina went ahead 4-0 off right-hander Christian Powell, Charleston’s top weekend starter who came in to throw in relief. Powell gave up four straight hits to start the inning, including LB Dantzler’s RBI single. Chase Vergason, who got his first start at second base in 18 games, delivered a sacrifice fly.

The Gamecocks collected 13 hits on the night.

“We really did (have some good at-bats),” Tanner said. “We had three walks and four strikeouts tonight, and when you do that, forget whatever else happens, you’ve got a chance to win. Then we get double-digit hits. It was a really good game for us.”

USC took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Pankake popped up for a double that fell into left field and went to third on Christian Walker’s single. Dantzler got the run home with a groundout to first.

The Gamecocks boosted the lead to 2-0 in the fifth off Charleston starter Ryan West (2-3). Pankake got the rally started with a two-out double and Walker followed with an RBI single.

“It helps definitely whenever you get a lead early,” Westmoreland said. “It helps to settle things in. Our offense is doing a good job right now.”

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