Gamecocks rally to win key opener over Vanderbilt

Special to The StateMay 15, 2014 

South Carolina's Joey Pankake (9)


— South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook contemplated pulling Max Schrock in the fifth inning. And then again in the ninth.

But Holbrook left his designated hitter coping with a bad back in the game – and it paid off in a big way.

Schrock smacked a two-strike, two-out, game-tying single off Vanderbilt closer Brian Miller in the ninth. Joey Pankake then homered in the 10th to lift the No. 17 Gamecocks to a 4-3 victory against No. 18 Vanderbilt on Thursday night in the opening game of the final SEC series of the season.

“I’m glad I didn’t (pull Schrock) – holy moly,” Holbrook said. “I about pinch hit (for) him (in the ninth). The poor kid could barely walk to the plate. Sometimes, the best decisions are the ones you don’t make.”

For the fifth time this season, South Carolina (41-13, 17-11 SEC) rallied to win after trailing entering the ninth inning.

Trailing 3-2 in the ninth, Gene Cone started the South Carolina rally by drawing a leadoff walk. He moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, which prompted Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin to pull starting pitcher Tyler Beede. The Vanderbilt ace left with one out in the ninth after scattering six hits and throwing a career-high 122 pitches in his longest outing of his career.

But Beede wouldn’t pick up his eighth win. With two outs and down to their last strike against Vanderbilt closer Brian Miller, the Gamecocks forced extras when Schrock lined a single through the right side to score Cone.

“(My back) hurts but I never thought about someone hitting for me – definitely not,” Schrock said. “I wasn’t trying to do too much. I was trying to see a ball up and he gave me one with two strikes, and I put a pretty good swing on it.”

In the bottom of the ninth, center fielder Tanner English prevented the Commodores (39-15, 16-12) from walking off with a win by throwing out the potential game-winning run at home.

Catcher Grayson Greiner snagged English’s heave to his right and reached back across the plate to tag out Rhett Wiseman, who was trying to score from second off Ro Coleman’s single up the middle.

“Every coach in America is going to send the runner from (second),” English said. “So I was trying not to screw it up and put a ball at the plate Grayson could handle. I was pumped up.”

Pankake then delivered the game-winning blow in the 10th. He rocketed his fifth homer of the season just over the left-field wall and into the first row with one out off of Miller (1-1).

Cody Mincey and closer Joel Seddon (3-1) pitched three scoreless innings to finish the comeback. Seddon pitched the last two frames and worked around a leadoff walk in the 10th, leaving the game-tying runner on second by inducing a groundout to second to end the game.

Left-hander Jordan Montgomery picked up a no-decision after scattering eight hits and allowing three runs while striking out eight over seven innings.

“That was a great college baseball game,” Holbrook said. “Our kids battled and competed to the last pitch. Our guys found a way to win.”

The teams entered the series with identical SEC records, tied for second in the East and tied for third overall in the conference. The top four seeds receive byes in next week’s SEC tournament, avoiding the single-elimination round of the 12-team event.

The Commodores, with a No. 7 RPI, and the Gamecocks at No. 12, also are vying for one of the eight national seeds in the NCAA tournament.

Game two is on 7:30 p.m. Friday and will be shown online at ESPN3.

Box score: USC-Vanderbilt, Game 1

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