Widener handcuffs Paladins as Gamecocks roll 9-2

nwhite@thestate.comApril 8, 2014 

USC pitcher Taylor Widener

C MICHAEL BERGEN — mbergen@thestate.com

— South Carolina right-hander Taylor Widener didn’t draw the start Tuesday night against Furman, but the freshman pitcher made the most of an extended relief stint.

While throwing a career-high 4 2/3 innings, Widener mowed down the Paladins in a 9-2 victory at Fluor Field, the home of the Greenville Drive. He allowed no runs on one hit and struck out a career-high four batters. He retired the final 10 hitters he faced.

“I did what I had to do. I came in and got outs and let my infield work,” Widener said. “I had most of my pitches working for me. We had the change of the balls (to a Southern Conference baseball), and I felt like I was getting a little bit more movement on all of my pitches.”

Widener (2-0), a South Aiken native, has not allowed an earned run in 20 2/3. He has given up 10 hits and five walks while striking out 17. He admits to being surprised by his success on the mound.

“I didn’t have any expectations. I was just taking every chance I could get to play,” he said. “I figured I would hit a little bit more than I pitched, but I’m just going to keep doing what they want me to do.”

USC coach Chad Holbrook, who has sparingly used Widener as a designated hitter and first baseman, loves the way his freshman goes after opposing hitters.

“He’s trying to develop a little bit of a comfort zone, and we have a lot of confidence in him. He throws strikes, and he’s got a little bit of a bulldog mentality,” Holbrook said. “He throws to both sides of the plate, and he has really good command of his fastball. It was good to see Taylor throw the way he did.”

Fifth-ranked South Carolina (27-5) swept the two-game season series against the Paladins (11-22), who dropped a 5-0 decision in Columbia last month. The Gamecocks return home for a three-game weekend series against No. 15 Florida (21-12) that begins Friday at 7 p.m. The teams are tied for the SEC East lead at 7-5.

Greenville native Kyle Martin’s three-run home run to right-center in the third inning blew the game open. Martin, who has four homers and 19 RBIs on the season, gave the Gamecocks a 6-2 lead with his blast. His three hits, which also included an RBI single, led a 14-hit attack, along with Marcus Mooney’s three hits.

Martin was sporting a new haircut after Holbrook told him to get his shaggy locks cut before getting on the bus. The junior smiled when asked if it led to his big night.

“I don’t think so, but we can attribute it to that,” he said.

Holbrook, who got tired of seeing Martin’s hair fall in his eyes during Monday’s batting practice, took the opposite view.

“We made him cut his hair, and he hit a home run. In my book, there’s a correlation,” Holbrook said.

The Gamecocks, who hold a 6-2 advantage against Furman in games played at Fluor Field, also played well on defense, making no errors while turning four double plays.

South Carolina took a 3-0 lead in the first inning off Furman left-hander Ryan Dittmar (0-2). Max Schrock and Martin had RBI singles in the frame.

“We’re a work in progress right now offensively, but we look a little better when Max and Kyle swing the bat the way they’re capable. It makes us a little bit more of a threat,” Holbrook said.

The nine-run outburst was a welcome sight to Holbrook after watching his team score five runs in four games last week.

“We needed something to give us a little boost of confidence. We’ve been a little shaky, quite honestly,” Holbrook said. “I’m happy with the way we played. We won, and we made some nice plays defensively.”

Furman cut the lead to 3-2 in the second inning on Andrew MacLatchie’s two-run single off USC right-hander Evan Beal. The runs were the first allowed on the season by Beal, who had thrown 9 1/3 scoreless innings entering his third start.

Box score: USC-Furman

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