Newcomers help power Gamecocks to Opening Day softball win

nwhite@thestate.comFebruary 7, 2014 

One game into South Carolina’s softball season, Beverly Smith’s freshman class is making an impact.

With pitcher Nickie Blue tossing five shutout innings to get the victory, and first baseman Kaylea Snaer blasting a solo home run in the fourth inning, the newcomers led the way as the Gamecocks defeated Iowa 1-0 Friday afternoon in the season opener before a crowd of 1,123 at Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field.

Smith’s national recruiting efforts paid quick dividends. Snaer hails from Rowland Heights, Calif., and Blue came to USC from Longmont, Colo.

“Our entire freshman class is talented, but certainly Kaylea being able to start at first base and bat in the four-spot for us speaks a lot to her talent. She comes to play every day,” Smith said. “And Nickie Blue had a great performance for us on the mound. She combined with Julie (Sarratt) on the shutout, and they’re a great complement to each other.”

Sarratt, a redshirt junior, threw two hitless innings to collect her first save of the season.

The Gamecocks, who reached the NCAA tournament last year in Smith’s third season at the helm for the program’s first postseason appearance in six seasons, found themselves in a tight contest with the Hawkeyes (1-1), who defeated UNC Greensboro earlier in the day in the five-team round-robin Carolina Classic.

One swing of the bat made the difference. Snaer, who struck out looking in the first inning, was determined to make something happen when she came to the plate in the fourth to face Iowa pitcher Kayla Massey (0-1).

“The first at-bat, she struck me out on an inside pitch, and I take an inside pitch as an insult,” Snaer said. “I was really unhappy about that, and I told myself that when I go up to bat, if she throws it again, I’m hitting it out. And I did.”

The hard-throwing Blue helped make that lead stand up by allowing three hits and two walks over her five innings. She pitched out of a first-and-third, no-outs jam in the fifth thanks to a caught-stealing at home plate followed by a double-play liner to short.

“It meant a lot that coach trusted me enough to give me the start here,” Blue said. “Just knowing how my teammates and I prepared for this day, it really helped calm me down and just pitch my game.”

Both teams made three errors, and Sarratt, who went 12-8 last season, needed to pitch around a pair of errors to start the sixth inning. But she struck out Megan Blank, Iowa’s best hitter, and induced a pop-up and a flyout to end the threat.

“That was a part I like to see,” Smith said. “We made some errors and put ourselves in a couple of pressure situations, and we answered back. Our pitchers made some good pitches, and our defense come through, too. I felt like the team stayed really focused. It was a good way to start.”

Blue agreed the team showed its character in working through the adversity.

“Whatever you throw at us, we’re a step ahead and know what to do,” she said.

And Snaer knew what she had to do to ignite the offense, which collected five base hits and stranded seven runners. She was ready to step up in her first USC game.

“I’m very thankful that I’m able to contribute. I’m representing my whole team, and I love it. I’m so blessed to be able to start,” Snaer said. “I kept telling everybody that we were going to make a difference this year.”

The Gamecocks continue Classic play against Saturday against Ohio at 12:30 p.m. and Presbyterian at 3 p.m.

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