South Carolina baseball coach Ray Tanner had a favor to ask of his hitters Tuesday night at Riley Park.
“Let's do a little bit more for our pitching staff,” Tanner said in his pregame speech before the 11th-ranked Gamecocks took on The Citadel.
USC did exactly that, needing only two pitches to stake freshman pitcher Jordan Montgomery to a lead. The Gamecocks tacked on six more runs by the fifth inning and cruised to a 7-3 win over the Bulldogs before 4,417 fans on a cool, windy night at Riley Park.
It was the seventh time USC (18-7) had scored at least seven runs in a game this season. But the two-time defending national champs managed just six runs in two losses to top-ranked Florida last weekend, dropping to 1-5 in the SEC.
“Scoring seven runs is a big deal,” said Tanner, who got two RBIs each from Joey Pankake and Erik Payne, and an RBI double by Bishop England High School grad Brison Celek. “You hate to make too much out of it, but we usually score three or four.”
Scoring runs remains a struggle for the Bulldogs (9-15), who have lost four straight and scratched out just one run in three games at Minnesota in the Metrodome last weekend.
Citadel coach Fred Jordan shuffled his lineup, moving center fielder Nick Orvin from the three hole back to the leadoff spot he occupied last year. Orvin, batting .242 entering the game, responded with two hits, while Tyler Griffin hit a pinch-hit home run in the eighth and Bo Thompson an RBI double in the ninth.
“We're just trying to get Nick as many at-bats as we can right now,” said Jordan, whose team takes a 1-5 Southern Conference mark into a home series with Wofford this weekend. “He's a proven guy, and he's really comfortable in that leadoff spot. We'll probably stay with that and keep working at it.”
A solid outing by Montgomery, who worked 52/3 innings for his first college win, and some early runs eased Tanner's mind as the Gamecocks head to Vanderbilt for an SEC series this weekend.
“It feels good to get a win,” said Tanner, whose team has won just three of the last nine games. “You have to play well to win down here, and we played a good game. We had a 7-1 lead at one point, and that's a big lead in college baseball, but I knew Citadel would come back.”
Pankake, who was 2 for 3, left the game in the seventh inning after tweaking his shoulder on a checked swing. He said it wasn't serious, but Tanner sounded a little more worried.
“Hopefully that won't be a long-term thing,” Tanner said. “But we may be in jeopardy a little bit going to Vanderbilt with him.”
USC needed only two pitches to plate its first run, more than the Gamecocks totaled in nine innings of a 2-0 loss at The Citadel last season. A bunt single by Evan Marzilli and an RBI double by Pankake made it 1-0. USC added two runs in the third on three singles (two on the infield) and an RBI double from Celek.
Orvin got The Citadel's first hit with a grounder past shortstop in the fourth, and Justin Mackert brought him in with a ringing double to left to cut USC's lead to 3-1.
The Gamecocks broke it open with four runs on just two hits, an error and a walk in the fifth. Payne's two-run triple to center field was the big blow and gave USC a 7-1 lead.