Gamecocks bounce back, take out Cougars at home

Pankake, Saiko, Bright hit home runs in victory

nwhite@thestate.comApril 16, 2013 

— After losing three straight games at Florida last week, the South Carolina baseball team went in search of a win Tuesday night back at home.

The confines of Carolina Stadium proved much friendlier, as the Gamecocks busted out for 14 hits, including three home runs, against six College of Charleston pitchers in a much-needed 10-6 victory.

“Coming off a tough week last week, I thought we swung the bat very well,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “All in all, it’s good to get a win and get that bad taste out of our mouth.”

Left-fielder Graham Saiko led the attack with a career-high four hits, including the first home run of his USC career in the eighth inning and an RBI single in the third. Right-fielder Connor Bright drilled a two-run homer in the second inning and an RBI double in the third, while shortstop Joey Pankake had three hits, including a two-run homer in the sixth inning to go with a sacrifice fly in the second.

“Up and down the lineup, we swung the bat very well. We’ve known we’ve been able to hit like that as a team,” Saiko said. “We’ve been struggling a little bit, especially last weekend down in Gainesville. Tonight gives us some confidence as a team. Hopefully, we can carry it over to Kentucky.”

The No. 18 Gamecocks (28-10, 8-7 SEC) play No. 17 Kentucky (24-12, 7-8 SEC) in a three-game series at Carolina Stadium that starts Friday night.

USC bounced back from the Florida sweep to take a 5-0 lead after two innings. But the Cougars (20-16) didn’t give up, responding with four runs in the third inning to knock USC starter Forrest Koumas out of the game. The Gamecocks then answered with two more runs in their half of the third.

“It’s really tough when you give up seven runs in the first three innings. You’re playing catch-up the whole time trying to get back into the game,” Charleston coach Monte Lee said. “I give our guys credit for fighting back and making it close there in the middle innings, but they swung the bats very well and kept putting pressure on us. We just couldn’t make pitches when we needed.”

The Gamecocks knew they couldn’t afford to sit on the lead.

“That’s going to be our goal every game to get as many runs and hits as we can to make it a little bit easier on our pitching staff,” said Bright, who leads the team with a .330 average to go with four homers and 13 RBIs. “They’re a good-hitting team. We knew they weren’t going to roll over for us. We just kept the mindset of keep swinging the bats and keep scoring runs.”

USC relievers Vince Fiori (1-0), Patrick Sullivan, Adam Westmoreland, and Colby Holmes calmed the waters by combining to allow two runs, one earned, over the final 6 2/3 innings, as the hitters helped the Gamecocks pull away.

Westmoreland, the team’s most-used reliever with 41 1/3 innings, was brought on to get the left-handed hitters in the middle of Charleston’s lineup in the seventh inning. Once Koumas was knocked out early, Holbrook was certain that he wouldn’t be able to save Westmoreland for the weekend series.

“We knew we were going to have to use him against these guys. They swing the bats too good, and they’ve got too many lefties in there,” Holbrook said.

The win was the first career one for Fiori, a redshirt freshman left-hander.

“Fiori has pitched well for us. I don’t have any problems with Vince. There’s no fear in Vince Fiori,” Holbrook said.

BOX SCORE: USC 10, College of Charleston 6

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