Turning 40 may be a downer in some circles, but the South Carolina baseball team wants to hit that figure every season.
With a 10-1 victory over The Citadel Tuesday night at Carolina Stadium, the No. 17 Gamecocks reached the magic number for the 15th consecutive year. USC (40-13) has now won five straight games to head into the final SEC series of the regular season against No. 18 Vanderbilt with some momentum.
It shows the consistency of this program to bring in the right guys year-in and year-out, USC junior catcher Grayson Greiner said. Theres never a drop-off season here. Its always just a high level of competition. Were always just trying to win as many games as we can. Fifteen seasons with 40 wins is tough to do. You think every now and then youd have an off-season or win 35 and miss the postseason.
The Gamecocks also have reached the NCAA tournament for 14 straight seasons and are well on their way to another bid this season. Given the number of injuries along the way to his regular lineup, USC coach Chad Holbrook, who arrived in Columbia as an assistant coach in 2009 before taking the helm last season, appreciates how his players have battled to reach the milestone again.
When you play in the SEC and have 30 games in the league, thats not easy to do, Holbrook said Im proud of our team for getting to 40 and handling adversity the right way.
After losing to the Bulldogs 10-8 last month in Charleston, USC played much better this time behind the pitching of freshman right-hander Reed Scott and the three RBI singles of junior first baseman Kyle Martin. Holbrook liked the energy his team showed in jumping out to an early lead and coasting to the win.
I dont know whether it was a motivation factor to get to our 40th win or whether Citadel beat us pretty good last time and our guys wanted to come out and play well this time, he said.
Scott (2-0) pitched seven strong innings his longest outing of the season as he allowed one unearned run on four hits and no walks to go with seven strikeouts on 106 pitches. He lowered his ERA to 0.68 over 39 2/3 innings on the season.
Hes had some long stints out of the bullpen for us in some big SEC series, Greiner said. He kind of took the bullpen by the horns from the first inning and went all the way through seven innings. He threw four pitches for strikes and kept their hitters off-balance.
Holbrook, who called Scott a good pitcher without overpowering stuff, wanted to stretch out the freshman from Roswell, Ga., in case hes needed as a fourth starter in either the SEC or NCAA tournaments.
When a guys throwing good and its an important game, and were trying to get to 40, Im not going to take him out until weve got the game in hand, Holbrook said.
Scott, who noted that USC ace Jordan Montgomery has mentored him, settled into a groove early on and never let the Bulldogs (20-32) get untracked.
They let me go as long as I could go, Scott said. I was ready for whatever they wanted me to do, whether it was two, three or seven innings.
USC jumped out to a 5-1 lead after three innings to make a loser of Citadel left-hander Nate Brecklin (0-1) and never looked back. Marcus Mooney added a pair of doubles in the 10-hit attack, while DC Arendas picked up two RBIs on a single in the third inning and a groundout in the sixth.
The Gamecocks, who have an official NCAA RPI of No. 12, can now look ahead to Vanderbilt (39-14), which is No. 7 in the RPI, in a series that could determine whether one of them can earn a Top 8 national seed for the NCAA tournament, which ensures home games up until the College World Series.
Theyre really fundamentally sound and theyre well-coached, Greiner said. Its going to be difficult for us, but we are going to go out there and give it the best shot we have. Weve been playing better as of late in all phases, and we are starting to get some guys healthy again. Tonight was big, we got win number 40, and now we set our sights on Vanderbilt.