June 5, 2005
ATLANTA – Steve Pearce went 4-for-5 with two home runs, three RBI and three runs scored, while Andy Lambert and Jason Fletcher scattered eight hits combined to lift South Carolina past top-seed Georgia Tech, 8-3, Sunday night in the NCAA Atlanta Regional baseball tournament at Russ Chandler Stadium.
Head coach Ray Tanner’s team, which eliminated Michigan earlier in the day, earned the right to face Tech again at 6 p.m. Monday night for the regional championship. The winner will face Tennessee, which won the Knoxville Regional without a loss after defeating Wichita State, 10-2, Sunday. Tech (44-17) lost for the first time in six games.
“We’re excited to still be here. It was a tremdendous day for us, but we won two games and get the chance to play one more,” said Tanner. “We had guys make some clutch plays and got some clutch pitching.
The Gamecocks (41-22) jumped ahead early, scoring in each of the first three innings while Tech squandered a pair of bases-loaded, nobody-out opportunities.
Pearce homered in each of his first two at-bats, a two-run homer in the first and a solo shot to lead off the third. They were his 20th and 21st of the season and gave him 42 for his career, which ranks him sixth on the all-time South Carolina list. It was the fourth time this season he has hit two in a game, and they staked the Gamecocks to a 5-2 lead.
USC’s Lambert (4-0), making his second start of the season, overcame his early wildness by limiting the Yellow Jackets to just five hits in his 5.2 innings, which matched longest outing of the season. He walked four, hit a batter and struck out three. Fletcher struck out three and allowed three hits over the final 3 1/3 innings of work to earn his third save of the season.
“It was a clutch performance,” Tanner said of Lambert’s pitching. “He’s a guy who keeps it around the strike zone. Georgia Tech is going to get their hits, but you can’t give them anything extra. We felt like Lambert would be around the zone, maybe they would hit some balls at us. We needed to make them put it in play and not give them any free passes.
“I’ve said throughout year that our pitching staff has given us a chance to win,” added Tanner, whose team got 7 2/3 innings from Zac McCamie in its win over Michigan. “We haven’t always supported them, especially in the second half. When we get a few runs, we usually win. They left a lot of runners on base. We escaped some jams. Michael Campbell made a couple of nice running plays out in left field, and we hung in there.”
Tech loaded the bases three times in the game and produced just two runs from those situations. After a pair of walks and two singles in the first, the Yellow Jackets scored just once on Matt Weiters’ sacrifice fly. In the second, the Jackets loaded them up again on a walk, a hit batter and an error, but scored only once again on Danny Payne’s fielder’s choice grounder. Tech got a double, a walk and a single to fill the bases again in the eighth with two out, but Jeff Kindel lined out to left.
“It’s a major momentum shift for sure,” said Tech coach Danny Hall. “It give them a lot of confidence. We’ve been pretty good all year at capitalizing in that situation and couldn’t quite do it tonight.
“To their credit, they made some pitches when they needed to make them to get out of trouble and that was the story of the game.”
The Yellow Jackets, the ACC’s top hitting (.338) and scoring (9.7 runs per game) team, hit few balls hard against Lambert and Fletcher, and left 13 batters on base in the game. They have stranded 38 in three games during the Atlanta Regional.
The Gamecocks took advantage of a two-out error by Tech shortstop Tyler Greene for two unearned runs in the sixth when Michael Campbell belted his eighth homer of the season over the right-center field fence, giving USC a 7-2 lead.
Tech struck for its third run in the sixth on back-to-back doubles off Lambert by Andy Hawranick and Whit Robbins. Lambert retired the next two batters before giving way to Fletcher, who got a strikeout to end the inning and finished the game.
The Gamecocks got the run back in their half of the seventh when Pearce doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly to make the score 8-3.
Hall said Tim Gustafson would be his starting pitcher in Monday’s game, while Tanner indicated Aaron Rawl, who pitched Friday for the Gamecocks, would start for South Carolina.
GAME NOTES — Tyler Greene’s first-inning single extended his hitting streak to a career-long 23 games, the sixth-longest in Tech history.