Carolina sweeps Bulldogs
Published 11:35 am Monday, April 16, 2012
In a matchup of teams struggling to find their footing in the rugged Southeastern Conference, South Carolina got exactly what it wanted this weekend.
Mississippi State did not.
South Carolina scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to take the lead for good, then held off a Bulldog rally in the ninth to win 6-4 and complete a three-game sweep Sunday in Columbia.
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The three games were decided by a total of five runs, and Mississippi State (21-15, 5-10) was swept for the first time in five SEC series this season. The sweep dropped MSU into fifth place in the SEC West, two games behind Ole Miss and Auburn.
On the bright side, the Bulldogs are home for three of their last five SEC series, a stretch that begins Thursday against Tennessee. That favorable schedule, along with the scheduled return of several starters from injury, has coach John Cohen optimistic for the second half of the season.
“We have three series at home. I really believe in this group of guys,” Cohen said. “Their attitude is awesome. It’s tough to watch kids give their all when they really can’t move. I will back these guys 100 percent. They are part of some outstanding recruiting classes.
“We have had some bad luck. But I really like how the schedule matches up. As we get healthy again, we should be able to do some damage in the second half of the season.”
South Carolina’s sweep vaulted the two-time defending national champions back into contention in the SEC East. The Gamecocks (27-10, 8-7) have won three straight SEC series and are now tied with Georgia for third place in the East, three games behind leader Kentucky and one behind Florida for second place.
South Carolina lost five of its first six SEC games — in series against Kentucky and Florida — but is 7-2 in the league since then.
“We’re mixed up with everybody else. For a while we were looking up, and now we are in the mix with a bunch of teams. So a lot of things can happen the rest of the way,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “I said to the team after the game that I still think this team can play a little better than we’ve played.”
Mississippi State scored twice in the fifth inning Sunday to take a 2-1 lead, but it was short-lived. L.B. Dantzler brought in the tying run with a fielder’s choice in the bottom of the inning and Brison Celek put the Gamecocks ahead with a sacrifice fly. An infield single by Adam Matthews brought in another run to make it 4-2.
Joey Pankake put Carolina ahead 6-2 with a two-run single in the eighth, and the insurance runs proved useful. Mississippi State cut it to 6-4 in the top of the ninth on an RBI single by Mitch Slauter and an RBI groundout by Brent Brownlee.
With runners at second and third and two outs, Sam Frost drove a ball to deep right field. It was hauled in by Matthews for the final out.
“This game was a repeat of the entire weekend,” Cohen said. “It is symbolic of how the season is going. We are close.”
LSU 5, Alabama 1
Freshman Austin Nola allowed one run in five innings, and Arby Fields was 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs as SEC West leader LSU (30-7, 11-4 SEC) finished a three-game sweep of Alabama (13-23, 4-11).
JaCoby Jones went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored for LSU.
Vandy 11, Auburn 2
Anthony Gomez went 3-for-5 with a double, three RBIs and two runs scored, Tony Kemp had three hits and scored twice, and Vanderbilt (16-20, 6-9 SEC) hammered Auburn (19-16, 7-8).
Vanderbilt scored three runs each in the second, fourth and sixth innings. Kemp had an RBI triple in the fourth, then scored on a base hit by Gomez as the Commodores took a 7-1 lead.
Florida 8, Tennessee 1
Brian Johnson pitched six shutout innings and helped his own cause by driving in three runs as Florida (28-8, 9-6 SEC) beat Tennessee (21-15, 7-8).
The Gators scored all of their runs in the first four innings. Johnson drove in the first three with a double in the first inning. In his six innings on the mound, he gave up six hits and one walk.