Gamecocks rally to take Game 1 from Bulldogs

USC strikes for four runs in eighth to edge MSU

nwhite@thestate.comApril 13, 2012 

Trailing by three runs with two outs and nobody on base in the eighth inning, the South Carolina baseball team looked lifeless and on its way to another low-scoring loss. Five batters later, the Gamecocks held a one-run lead on their way to an improbable victory.

Pinch-hitter Sean Sullivan’s two-run triple highlighted the outburst and helped USC pull out a 7-6 win over Mississippi State on Friday night at Carolina Stadium in the opener of a three-game series.

The No. 10 Gamecocks (25-10, 6-7 SEC) got the uprising started against Mississippi State starter Chris Stratton, who struck out 11 batters, when Grayson Greiner drilled a solo home run to cut the lead to 6-4.

“Baseball is kind of a contagious game. If you put together a quality at-bat, guys behind you feed off of that,” Greiner said. “With two outs, I was just trying to get on base and keep the inning going. He had my number all night, and with two outs and nobody on base, I figured he would attack me with a fastball. He did, and I got it up in the air.”

Adam Matthews followed with a single up the middle to chase Stratton. Brison Celek greeted reliever Caleb Reed (0-5) with a double to put runners on second and third before Sullivan dumped a two-run triple into right to tie the game. Sullivan scored the winner when a wild pitch allowed Tanner English to reach first on a strikeout.

Sullivan, the Winthrop transfer who was hitting .150 in 20 at-bats, was happy to get the opportunity to contribute.

“You always want to help the team win any way you can. (USC coach Ray Tanner) told me earlier in the inning to be ready just in case,” said Sullivan, who credited the teammates hitting in front of him. “I don’t even get that opportunity to go up there and hit if not for them. I was just able to find a hole, and we were able to win it. That’s all that matters.”

Tanner realizes what veteran players such as Sullivan can do when the game’s on the line.

“I didn’t know he’d be able to drop one in the corner, but he understands with two strikes you have to take that kind of approach and shoot a ball the other way,” Tanner said. “That was great to see. He’s been one of the most unselfish players in our dugout the entire season. Guys like that who did it the right way deserve good things to happen.”

Mississippi State (21-13, 5-8 SEC) took a 6-3 lead in the game by roughing up USC ace left-hander Michael Roth for five runs in his 5 1/3 innings, his worst start since his freshman season in a game against College of Charleston. Roth, whose ERA jumped from 1.98 to 2.55, gave up solo homers to C.T. Bradford and Wes Rea as well as a two-run triple to Bradford.

Roth stated that he doesn’t know why he hasn’t made it through seven innings in five starts, but he does know that he’s missing his good changeup and isn’t spotting his fastball while struggling against left-handed hitters.

“I just haven’t put together a good outing in a while. I have no clue what’s going on,” he said.

He appreciated the comeback win by his teammates, which left him with a no-decision instead of a loss. Relievers Tyler Webb, Evan Beal, who got the win, and Matt Price, who pitched a perfect ninth for his second save, held the Bulldogs in check while the offense battled back.

“I enjoyed that scenario, just getting (Price) out there for a handful of pitches,” Tanner said. “It’s nice to be able to bring him in and not ask him to go seven, eight, nine outs.”

Roth said the win was important for several reasons.

“We want to win on Fridays because it puts us in a good position to win the series. We didn’t want to have to fight back like we did last week,” Roth said. “We don’t try to think too much about what our record in the SEC is. We’re just trying to go out and win every game. This is a huge game to win, a come-from-behind victory. We haven’t had too many of those. Obviously, it’s a morale booster.”

The Gamecocks struck for a 3-0 lead in the third inning off Stratton on Christian Walker’s bases-loaded walk and LB Dantzler’s two-run single. Sullivan was thrilled they reclaimed it in the eighth.

“It’s kind of emotional. It gets us on a high,” Sullivan said. “All we’re trying to do is win games, and it’ll give us a good boost going into Saturday and hopefully wrap up the series.”

The teams play the second game at 4 p.m. Saturday. USC left-hander Jordan Montgomery will face MSU right-hander Kendall Graveman. Tanner hopes to keep the SEC momentum going.

“I’d like to look back in two or three weeks and say this coming from behind against Mississippi State was a big game for us,” he said.

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