Dantzler drives Gamecocks past Great Danes

Career day at plate for senior; Jordan Montgomery improves to 2-0

Special to The StateFebruary 23, 2013 

It was a little something old and a touch of some new for South Carolina baseball Saturday afternoon.

Senior tri-captain LB Dantzler drove in a career-high five runs and newcomers Graham Saiko and Curt Britt played big roles as the Gamecocks coasted to an 8-3 victory against Albany at soggy Carolina Stadium.

Maybe more important for first-year South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook was that they played error-free and banged out 11 hits after scuffling in those area’s the first weekend of the season.

“I thought our kids played well and they played hard,” Holbrook said. “Collectively, we had a lot better plate approaches and our bats were solid. Even our outs were pretty good swings. I felt good about the way we played offensively and defensively.”

Dantzler got things going early with RBI singles in the first and second innings. His single in the first staked USC to a 1-0 lead and his single in the second was the final of three run-scoring hits by the Gamecocks that pushed the lead to 4-0. Saiko, who reached base in all five at-bats on two singles and three walks, and Joey Pankake also added RBI singles in the inning.

Dantzler, who has a team-high 8 RBIs, added a three-run home run in the sixth inning to highlight his career-high, four-hit day. So far on the young season, Dantzler is the only Gamecock to tally a home run. His second of the season was a rope to right field that easily cleared the fence next to the USC bullpen.

“It was a breaking ball but I was sitting fastball,” Dantzler said. “I was looking to get something over the plate that I could drive for a sacrifice fly. I was able to keep my hands inside and it carried out.”

Holbrook said in the preseason that he wasn’t worried about Dantzler even though he struggled during most of the weekend scrimmages.

“LB is feeling good, and he’s very confident,” Holbrook said. “He’s putting good swings on it. Even the balls he fouls back, he’s just missing them. He’s a senior, and we needed him to get off to this kind of start.”

Saiko, a junior college transfer, has batted lead-off since the season opener and he’s been a huge payoff. He leads the team with a .611 on-base percentage and has scored a team-best five runs, including two on Saturday.

“Graham Saiko is a good player,” Holbrook said. “He doesn’t chase pitches out of the zone and he makes you throw strikes. Plus, he’s a pretty good hitter when you throw it in there. I’m certainly pleased with the way he’s played.”

That was more than enough offensive support for Jordan Montgomery and Britt. Montgomery earned the victory to improve to 2-0. He allowed two runs on five hits with five strikeouts and three walks in five innings.

The sophomore from Sumter pitched out of a one-out, bases loaded jam in the fifth inning by allowing one run. After falling into a 3-0 hole on Joey Tracey, he came back to strike him out on three consecutive pitches that Tracey looked at. That kept the USC lead at 5-2.

“I don’t think Jordan had his best stuff by any stretch, but he battled and competed,” Holbrook said. “Jordan showed me something there by throwing three strikes in a row with the bases loaded, a 3-0 count and we’re only up three runs. We felt in control at that point.”

The performance of Britt was most-pleasing for Holbrook. After not getting the freshman any action on the mound in the opening weekend against Liberty, he was eager to see him get an opportunity. The right-hander didn’t disappoint as he retired the first nine hitters he faced and allowed a single run in the ninth on two hits.

He struck out three and walked one on 54 pitches.

“Curt Britt was special for a freshman in his first outing so it was great to see,” Holbrook said.

The Gamecocks (3-1) and Great Danes (0-3) with play a doubleheader Sunday beginning at noon. Colby Holmes (0-0, 2.84 ERA) and Nolan Belcher (0-1, 4.76) are the expected starters for South Carolina.

Box score: USC-Albany, Game 1

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