Upset avoided

USC third baseman Chase Vergason went 1 for 4 and had a run and RBI during the Gamecocks’ win over The Citadel on Tuesday.

Rookie head coach Chad Holbrook blamed himself for a three-run Citadel rally that shaved South Carolina’s comfortable four-run lead to a scary one in the seventh inning Tuesday night

“That’s on me,” Holbrook said after No. 5 USC blasted three home runs and held on for a 9-5 victory before 5,838 fans on a beautiful, clear night at Riley Park. “I screwed that up and didn’t go to the bullpen soon enough.”

But Holbrook noted the way his Gamecocks covered for him. USC scratched out a bounceback run in the eighth on a pinch-hit double, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly, and then iced the game on a two-run home run by Joey Pankake in the ninth.

“They threw a haymaker at us,” Holbrook said of The Citadel (14-8). “They almost took the lead from us. But I loved the way our guys responded to that.”

One of the many lessons Holbrook has learned from ex-USC coach Ray Tanner — who was watching the game on video back in Columbia — is to value these mid-week contests against in-state rivals eager to knock off the two-time national champions.

Even with closer Tyler Webb under the weather, Holbrook asked him to pitch two innings to earn his eighth save and improve the Gamecocks’ record to 18-3 heading into a weekend SEC series against Arkansas.

“Tyler pitched sick, but this was a big game against an in-state team on the road,” Holbrook said. “If I was going to lose that game, I was going to lose it with Tyler Webb out there.”

USC freshman starter Jack Wynkoop (4-0) continued his impressive run, allowing two runs on five hits, one walk and five strikeouts over 51/3 innings.

It looked as if USC might not require Webb’s services after Grayson Greiner smoked a two-run homer (his second) in the third and LB Dantzler added a solo shot (his seventh) in the fourth while USC built leads of 5-1 and 6-2.

The Bulldogs rallied for three runs in the seventh, sparked by a pinch-hit double by Brett Bullard. Drew DeKerlegand followed a bunt single with a two-run triple to center, scoring on a throwing error to cut USC’s lead to 6-5 before Holbrook could get reliever Patrick Sullivan out of the game.

Wando High School grad Connor Bright’s sac bunt, following a pinch-hit double by Kyle Martin, helped USC answer on Greiner’s sac fly before Dantzler’s two-run shot in the ninth.

“We got behind in some counts, and you can’t do that against these guys,” said Citadel coach Fred Jordan, whose club also made three errors to lead to four unearned runs. “They made the ballpark look small.”

Citadel starter Logan Cribb (1-2) could not reclaim the magic he enjoyed against USC two years ago as a freshman, when he pitched eight innings of scoreless ball in a 2-0 win over the No. 3 Gamecocks.

“I just wanted to have five good innings,” said Cribb, who allowed three runs on four hits in 32/3 innings. “I only made it into the fourth, and they weren’t great innings. It just wasn’t my night.”

The Citadel had nine hits, with a double by Bullard and triples by Mason Davis and DeKerlegand. But the Bulldogs, ranked third in the nation with 21 homers, did not get deep and failed to get double-digit hits for the first time in six games.

With a game at rival College of Charleston looming today — and a series with rival Charleston Southern this weekend — the Bulldogs need to forget this one quickly.

“We’ve got to keep the wins coming,” DeKerlegand said. “We’ve got to keep playing good baseball.”sdf