Belcher, Gamecocks top Rider 1-0, sweep series

nwhite@thestate.comMarch 10, 2013 

Nolan Belcher keeps on piling up shutout innings.

The USC senior left-hander threw seven more Sunday at Carolina Stadium to lead the Gamecocks to a 1-0 victory over Rider and a sweep of the three-game series. Thanks to Belcher and closer Tyler Webb, sixth-ranked USC (13-2) needed only a solo home run from Joey Pankake, his fourth in five games, to defeat the Broncs (6-4).

Belcher (3-1) has now thrown 18 consecutive scoreless innings, which included last weekend’s complete-game shutout of Clemson, and lowered his ERA to 1.63. The crafty 5-foot-8 captain worked seven innings, and though he allowed eight hits, he didn’t walk a batter while striking out seven.

“He just throws strikes and gives you a presence that he’s not going to beat himself,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “He can throw any pitch in any count. When you’re a college pitcher and you can throw 2-0 and 3-1 changeups in there, that’s tough. On top of that, being left-handed helps. He’s got backbone. He’s a tough nut, and he’s going to give you all he’s got.”

Rider coach Barry Davis, whose team stayed close in all three games, came away impressed by Belcher’s toughness on the mound as well. He noted that Belcher has walked only one batter while striking out 30 in 27 2/3 innings on the season.

“He doesn’t walk anybody,” Davis said. “Belcher is going to give them a chance to win. He throws three pitches for strikes, he can move it in and out, and he’s a competitor.”

Belcher needed to work out of several jams. He got a big groundout to end the second inning after three singles, two of the infield variety, had loaded the bases. With runners on the corners and one out in the seventh inning, Rider tried a squeeze play but first baseman LB Dantzler sniffed it out, fielded the bunt, and threw out the runner at the plate.

After Belcher gave up a leadoff single in the eighth, which ended his day, Webb came on and allowed a single before he worked out of the jam by getting a strikeout and popup with runners to second and third. Webb closed things out in the ninth for his fifth save despite allowing a pair of singles and a walk.

“I’m trying to throw strikes and let my defense work for me,” Belcher said. “They battled today and made it very difficult on me. I felt like I was throwing out of the stretch the whole inning. They were very tough. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit.”

Davis kept hoping his team would deliver the big base hit to grab the lead, but the Broncs ended up stranding 12 runners.

“Anytime you double up a team hitting, you should win the game. That’s a general rule,” Davis said. “We did have opportunities, and to beat this kind of team you’ve got to take advantage of them. But if you play these kinds of teams, you’re going to get better. This (series) made us better this weekend.”

Holbrook admitted that Webb, who hasn’t allowed a run in eight appearances this season, wasn’t as sharp Sunday as he was Friday. But he had to pitch a total of 4 1/3 innings on the weekend to hold off a scrappy Rider team in the two hard-fought shutout wins.

“We had to extend him two days,” Holbrook said. “When you throw 38 pitches on Friday night and come back and have to throw 40 (Sunday), that’s a workhorse. He’s been phenomenal.”

The Gamecocks, who had five hits on the day, took the 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when Pankake led off with a home run off Rider right-hander Mike Murphy (1-2) that landed on the concourse past the left-center fence. The infield also made a number of big plays, several by second baseman Max Schrock, that kept the Broncs from putting together a big inning.

“We could easily have lost that game, but Nolan Belcher and Tyler Webb kept us in it. We made some great defensive plays,” Holbrook said. “We gave up 11 hits and didn’t give up a run. We made pitches when we had to and we made defensive plays when we had to. We found a way to win.”

USC returns to the field for Tuesday’s 7 p.m. home game against USC Upstate. Junior right-hander Forrest Koumas is the expected starter.

BOX SCORE: USC 1, Rider 0

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