USC made it interesting late, but in the end it was business as usual in their NCAA Regional opening win over Saint Louis. The Gamecocks let the Billikens back in it with a two out, two run throwing error by Chase Vergason in the top of the 8th that tied the score at 3-3 before they answered with four runs in the bottom half of the inning to take a 7-3 win in front of over 7,000 fans at Carolina Stadium.
That makes 25 straight home postseason wins for USC and it sets up an 8:00 winner’s bracket matchup with Liberty Saturday night. Saint Louis will face Clemson in an elimination game at 2:00.
USC jumped out to an early lead in the first when LB Dantzler drove in Max Schrock with a one out grounder to second. The Gamecocks added another run in the second with a Graham Saiko solo homer to left field. The lead was extended to 3-0 in the fourth inning on a Connor Bright two out RBI single that brought in Grayson Greiner.
At that point it looked like Carolina was ready to coast. Starter Nolan Belcher only allowed one hit in his first six innings and had faced the minimum because Greiner threw out that runner trying to steal. With his pitch count getting into the 90s in the seventh inning, Belcher started to labor. Saint Louis started the inning with two straight hits and after a strikeout scored its first run of the game on RBI single to left field. That ended Belcher’s night. Adam Westmoreland came in and got a double play to keep the score at 3-1.
In the 8th inning the Billikens took advantage of a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes by Gamecock third baseman Chase Vergason. With a runner on first Vergason fielded a ground ball and threw wide to second trying to get the force out. That put runners on second on first. After a couple of Tyler Webb strikouts sandwhiched between a wild pitch it looked like the Gamecocks were going to get out of it when Michael Bozarth to hit a routine ground ball to Vergason, but Vergasn’s throw to first was high and wide and sailed over Kyle Martin’s head allowing both runners to score and the Billikens to tie the game at 3-3.
The Gamecocks didn’t have to sweat it out very long though. Joey Pankake reached on an error to start the inning and ended up scoring after he stealing second and getting back to back singles by Greiner and Martin. Greiner scored on a wild pitch and Saiko followed with an RBI double. He ended up scoring on a two out throwing error and just like that the Gamecocks had the 7-3 advantage.
Webb came back out in the 9th and pitched a clean inning to send the Gamecocks into the winner’s bracket to face Liberty.