Batters take charge: Aggressive mentality lifts USC to sweep of Ball State

Tanner English leaves the game with a sore shoulder

nwhite@thestate.comMarch 6, 2013 

Despite playing on a cold and windy day, the South Carolina baseball team found a way to keep its bats warm enough to finish off a two-game sweep of Ball State.

Led by Joey Pankake’s second three-run homer in as many days and a 14-hit attack, the No. 6 Gamecocks defeated the Cardinals 14-4 Wednesday afternoon at Carolina Stadium.

As they prepared for their final non-conference weekend series before the start of SEC play, the Gamecocks (10-2) scored six runs in the first three innings to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Besides Pankake’s two hits, which included that second-inning home run, freshman second baseman Max Schrock had a big day with three hits, including a pair of RBI singles, and three stolen bases. Grayson Greiner added two hits as well with an RBI single and two-run double.

“We had a lot of energy today, and that transferred to our bats,” Schrock said. “It’s kind of easy to have a lot of energy when it’s cold as Aspen out there. It was freezing, it was windy, and it was, just, oh. That does help with energy because it gives you a little shock.”

Holbrook liked his team’s take-charge attitude at the plate and on the basepaths, where they stole a total of five bases. It was the second straight 10-run win over the Cardinals.

“I just wanted the mindset that we were going to be aggressively both offensively on the bases and swinging the bats,” he said. “For the most part these two days, it was good to see them have that mentality.”

Senior right-hander Patrick Sullivan picked up the win with 3 2/3 innings of solid relief after he came on for freshman right-hander Curt Britt. Sullivan allowed one run on five hits while striking out five.

“I was glad to get back on the rubber. It felt like it had been a while,” said Sullivan, who was making his third appearance. “I wanted to be out there and just throw strikes.”

Although Holbrook wasn’t completely pleased with Britt’s outing, he did like what Sullivan gave the team.

“That’s a good line for him,” Holbrook said. “And you feel comfortable with him out there because he’s a veteran, he’s older, he’s mature. He’s not going to get rattled in any situation. It was good to see Pat get some strikeouts.”

But he also conceded the struggles of Britt may have had more to do with the bitterly cold wind, which led to the ball carrying out to right-field, including a game-opening homer by Ball State’s Blake Beemer.

“It was a tough day to pitch, let’s be honest,” Holbrook said.

After the Cardinals (5-6) cut the lead to 7-4 in the eighth inning, senior left-hander Tyler Webb came on in relief of Adam Westmoreland to get the final out of that inning. The Gamecocks blew things open with a seven-run bottom half of the eighth.

Holbrook appreciated that his hitters had twice as many walks (10) as strikeouts (5). He also liked that freshman George Iskenderian collected the first two hits of his USC career. And he felt good about his defense’s errorless play.

“All in all, it’s a good win. It’s good to get the 10th one,” he said.

A bigger concern as Rider comes to town involves a string of injuries.

Utility man Connor Bright was a late scratch from a start in right-field due to a bruised ankle from fouling a ball off his foot against Clemson, but he should return Friday. Center fielder Tanner English left the game in the third inning due to a sore right shoulder after making a throw. Those injuries follow Tuesday’s news that Friday night ace left-hander Jordan Montgomery will miss two or three starts with a lower distal humerus stress reaction in his throwing arm.

“Tanner tweaked his shoulder, (which is) a little bit of a concern,” Holbrook said. “The shoulder has been bothering him. It’s been sore. If he tore anything in there, outfielders usually can play with those types of things, which is the good thing.”

-- Box score: USC 14, Ball State 4

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