Quick-strike 6th boosts Gamecocks

USC tops Auburn 5-3, take series

Special to The StateApril 21, 2012 

South Carolina's LB Dantzler watches his ball after a base hit in the third inning during the Gamecocks game against Charleston Southern at Carolina Stadium, Tuesday, March 13, 2012.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

LB Dantzler saw the baseball hooking sharp toward the right-field foul pole, its destination seemingly inevitable.

Too many promising blasts have ended as warning-track outs recently for South Carolina’s cleanup hitter to get high hopes. This one, Dantzler thought, was doing the same. Or it was going foul.

With a runner on third, Dantzler said he would have been satisfied with a sacrifice fly. By a foot, and with a smattering of Auburn fans waving foul to share their opinion with the ump, he got a game-changing home run instead, helping push the No. 9 Gamecocks to a 5-3 win Saturday at Auburn.

“With the way things have been going,” Dantzler said, “I was a little surprised it actually did stay fair. But it felt good, for sure.”

South Carolina’s victory was its seventh in a row in SEC play and its 13th consecutive series win against Auburn. The last time the Gamecocks dropped a series to the Tigers was 1997. Dantzler was starting elementary school.

Saturday, the junior third baseman was helping South Carolina to a four-run sixth inning that seemingly came from nowhere.

The Gamecocks (29-11, 10-7 SEC) were scoreless through five innings against Auburn senior starter Jon Luke Jacobs, who allowed one hit in that time. But first baseman Christian Walker tripled in two runs, giving South Carolina its first lead.

Then Dantzler’s hooking homer cleared the bases.

“We don’t do the quick-strike very often,” coach Ray Tanner said. “We don’t have too many big innings. We’ve had some better at-bats lately. We’ve been a bit more consistent, although we only had five hits today.

“That inning was really good to us.”

On its own, the inning almost wasn’t enough.

Auburn (21-18, 7-10 SEC) battled back, pulling within one run with first baseman Garrett Cooper’s solo home run to center off Matt Price in the eighth inning. For Cooper, Auburn’s hottest hitter of late, it was his second homer in the series.

Despite the homer, Tanner said his team didn’t panic.

“You’d be concerned if it was anybody other than Cooper,” Tanner said. “That guy can swing the bat. He’s an imposing hitter in their lineup, and he’s had good hacks these two games almost every at-bat. We got him one time today where we were able to get it off his fist a little bit, but he’s an outstanding hitter.”

South Carolina tacked on an insurance run in the ninth inning, and Auburn went quietly in the bottom half.

The Gamecocks will try to win their eighth straight in SEC play — and second consecutive series sweep — at 2 p.m. today. After a sluggish start to the SEC season, Walker said his team’s recent run has been special.

“It’s fun,” he said. “We’re playing some good baseball right now, and everything is clicking.”

BOX SCORE: USC-Auburn, Game 2

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