COLUMBIA - Seeding never mattered to Chad Holbrook. With tensions high and nerves aplenty, South Carolina's coach thought the opening game of the NCAA tournament would be tight.
It's why Holbrook wanted junior pitcher Jordan Montgomery on the mound against No. 4 Campbell on Friday night, instead of saving his ace for a more formidable opponent Saturday. After another postseason masterpiece from the junior southpaw in a game that was close until the eighth inning, Holbrook was relieved he made the right call.
"That was the best decision I've made all week, was to give Jordan Montgomery the ball," Holbrook said after a 5-2 win. "Because I don't know if we win that game tonight if Jordan's not out there."
Montgomery flashed his usual postseason dominance, allowing two runs through eight-plus innings. He struck out nine with no walks, and one of his runs came after he exited in the ninth.
His lone blemish was Campbell first baseman Seth LaRue's fourth-inning home run. Montgomery retired the next 10 batters, never letting the Fighting Camels gain momentum.
"It was just one run," Montgomery said. "I knew if I kept hitting my spots and throwing it at (catcher Grayson Greiner's) mitt, we'd be fine."
Montgomery's brilliance was the good news. The bad? He won't be available Saturday when No. 1 South Carolina hosts No. 2 Maryland in the winner's bracket of the NCAA Columbia Regional.
The Terrapins beat No. 3 Old Dominion in a wild game Friday afternoon. The tying and winning runs came when consecutive batters were hit by pitches with the bases loaded in the ninth inning.
Even if it was a fluky win, Maryland was beaming with confidence afterward. The Terps vowed they would not be intimidated by the hostile Gamecocks crowd, which was counted at 7,382 Friday night.
"I feel like we're ready," Maryland third baseman Jose Cuas said. "We just came off the ACC tournament, which was the same hostile crowd. We just have to keep playing the way that we play, slowing the game down, not letting the crowd get into us, and just keep playing baseball. It's a regular team, just like any team we played throughout the year. Nothing that's going to scare us or back us down."
Campbell wasn't scared Friday night, but Camels pitcher Heath Bowers was clearly affected by the atmosphere in the first inning.
South Carolina opened the game with its first four batters reaching base. Junior first baseman Kyle Martin's two-RBI single put the Gamecocks on the board, while second baseman DC Arendas' first sacrifice fly of the season made it 3-0 after entering the second.
Bowers quickly recovered. He allowed nine hits with only one strikeout and one walk in 5 2/3 innings, but South Carolina was held scoreless the next seven innings.
Gamecocks leadoff hitter Marcus Mooney broke the game open in the eighth inning with a two-RBI single on a blooper that dropped over the second baseman's head. Mooney's hit set the final score.
In his previous at-bat, Mooney was thrown out at second trying to stretch a clear single into a double.
"After my baserunning blunder in the earlier inning that really took us out of the inning, I really just wanted to help us score some more runs, or do anything to help my team after that mistake," Mooney said.
Designated hitter Max Schrock finished 2-for-4 at the plate with a run scored. Right fielder Connor Bright was 1-for-3. Both players missed considerable time late in the season with injuries.
Jack Wynkoop is expected to start for South Carolina on Saturday night. Maryland will throw freshman right hander Mike Shawaryn.
South Carolina pitcher Jordan Montgomery was everything the Gameoccks hoped to get from their ace Friday night in the opening game of the NCAA Columbia Regional. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)×
South Carolina pitcher Jordan Montgomery was everything the Gameoccks hoped to get from their ace Friday night in the opening game of the NCAA Columbia Regional.×