In a win or go home game, the South Carolina Gamecocks showed their mettle Thursday by defeating the Florida Gators 11-3 at Regions Park in Hoover. The Gamecocks, one day removed from a heartbreaking loss to LSU, did what any good ball club does: they focused on the task at hand. In regaining their mojo, they once again became a team that had fun and was fun to watch for those who love the game.
South Carolina Head Coach Ray Tanner was pleased with his team and how they put the loss to LSU behind them. “I know you hear it all the time. I know you hear coaches say it, but I’m really proud of these guys and how they bounced back today. Yesterday’s loss was tough, honestly it was. To be able to respond and come back and win a game says a lot about their character.”
With the Gamecocks a run down in the second, the team rallied together, scoring five runs by taking what the Gator pitchers were giving them. They were patient at the plate, fouling off good pitches when necessary, and were able to wait for their pitches. When Florida’s pitchers did not give them anything to hit, they took their free pass.
With doubt creeping in about the Gamecock bull pen and their ability to hold on to a lead, USC got exactly what they needed from senior right hander Nick Godwin, Thursday’s starter, and a solid performance from starter-turned-reliever Mike Cisco, to shut down the Gator bats and lead this team to victory.
The key to the pitching staff’s success today was avoiding the base on balls. In his post-game press conference, Tanner focused on the fact that USC pitchers only issued one walk on the game and forced the Gators to earn their way on base.
Speaking about Godwin’s performance, Tanner said, “Nick stayed out there for seven innings and punched out a guy an inning, with only one walk in the game.”
He also spoke of the confidence he had in Cisco coming on in relief. “Cisco is a bulldog and has been a starter for us most of his career. I like the fact that I knew what I was going to get from him when he went out there,” Tanner said. “He competes as hard as anybody.”
Not to be outdone, the Carolina bats came to life as well. Justin Smoak was the offensive hero today, driving in four runs on the day. As a side note, those RBIs made Smoak the all-time leading RBI man in Gamecock baseball history, with 200 runs batted in, surpassing Mac White and Chris Boyle, who both had 198.
Smoak has seen very few pitches to hit this weekend, as the SEC teams are well aware of his prowess; and like any great hitter, he has waited. His patience was rewarded in Thursday’s game when he tied the record for the most walks in USC history, with 149 for his career.
In the second inning with the bases loaded and only one out, Smoak waited until he saw a pitch he liked and turned on it. He drove it well off the right field wall, but foul. Some might expect him to become antsy at the plate after just missing a grand slam, but Smoak took the next pitches off the dish and accepted the walk, driving in the 197th RBI of his career, which at the time put him one behind the all-time leaders.
In the eighth, Smoak was in a similar position with two on and one out. “It was a fast ball, middle in, and I hit it well,” Smoak said after the game.
That was an understatement. In the spacious ballpark that has only seen seven home runs in seven games, Smoak’s ball was a towering shot almost to dead center, 405 feet away from home plate. There was never any doubt that it was going to leave the ballpark, only as to where it would land. The three-run shot would break the RBI record.
“The RBI record is nice. The home run record is nice. But all I care about is us winning ballgames.”
An attitude like that is what has made Justin Smoak invaluable to this year’s team.
With a combination of the top of the order being patient and the bottom of the order being aggressive, the Gamecock offense gelled today with everyone contributing. The only starter without a hit was Phil Disher, but he still contributed with a run scored and an RBI. The only starter without an RBI was DeAngelo Mack, who did score two runs. This win was a team effort from top to bottom.
If the Gamecocks continue to play like they did today - like they are fully capable of playing - Ray Tanner may need to have his mail forwarded to Hoover, because he may be here for a while.
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