USC tops Alabama in slugfest

USC center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. makes a catch Saturday in Game 2 of the Gamecocks' SEC series with Alabama. Bradley had one of seventh-ranked USC's five home runs Sunday at Carolina Stadium in Columbia. USC won 20-15 in the rubber game of the series

Rich Glickstein/rglickstein@thes

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina baseball coach Ray Tanner was suffering from vertigo Sunday. He probably stayed away from the postgame box score, then, because it had a similarly dizzying effect.

The combined damage between the No. 7 Gamecocks and Alabama: 35 runs on 41 hits, nine home runs, 14 pitchers.

Tanner coached through discomfort, and the Gamecocks erased an early four-run deficit in a 20-15 affair that had the scoreboard operator's head spinning.

"It was pretty wild," Gamecocks leadoff hitter Whit Merrifield said after a 3-for-4 day.

Yeah, you could say that.

Safe to say the wind was blowing out on a terribly hot summer-like afternoon, with 8,006 sun-baked fans watching on.

"You saw that and thought it had a chance to be that kind of a day," said Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard.

Really? That kind of a day?

The Tide (28-17, 9-12 SEC) used eight pitchers, none of whom went more than 1 2/3 innings.

South Carolina used six arms, with Tyler Webb getting the win despite a line that reads more like a blown save (two home runs, a walk and three earned runs in 1 2/3 innings.)

Webb gave up fourth-inning homers to Josh Rutledge and David Kindred, putting Alabama ahead 8-4.

There was no panic in the Gamecocks' dugout, though. They knew they had come from behind before this season. They knew they were well into Bama's bullpen. And they knew the wind was blowing stiffly toward downtown.

"We knew it was a hitter's day," said Kyle Enders, who became the first USC player to register five hits in a game this season. "We just had to keep plugging away."

Brady Thomas' pinch-hit, three-run home run in the bottom of the fourth was the big blow in a six-run, seven-hit frame that flipped the game completely.

"It didn't look good," said associate head coach Chad Holbrook, speaking for the ill Tanner. "You could start thinking right there that we're going to lose, lose a series at home. But we didn't.

"We responded to adversity the way good teams do."

The win keeps South Carolina (34-9, 16-5) a game ahead of Florida in the SEC East race. It also maintains the fact that USC has won each of its first seven conference series.

Three series (at Kentucky, at Arkansas, Florida) remain.

"That's a heck of a compliment to our players," Holbrook said of that SEC series win streak. "This league is so difficult. You can get swept anytime, anywhere."

The pitching staff had towed around most of the season a Gamecocks offense that's mired in bottom third of the SEC in batting average - dead last in hits.

For once this season -- as it's often been in past years under Tanner -- the bats came to the aid of the pitching.

"Our pitching staff has been great all year," said Enders, who had three singles, a double and a home run that resulted in five RBIs. "We gave up, what, 15 runs today? It was about time for the hitters to step up."

Alabama crept back into the game, making it 15-11 heading to the bottom of the seventh. That's when Enders clocked a two-run homer to push the lead back to six.

Thomas and Enders, the team's two catchers, went a combined 8-for-8 with nine RBIs. Thomas' 11th-inning home run beat the Tide on Friday night.

Thomas has been battling a little bug, Holbrook said. Tanner was dealing with more than that, fighting severe bouts of nausea and dizziness. Holbrook said he didn't expect Tanner to make it to the dugout bench, but was surprised by his appearance just before the first pitch.

Tanner made many of the game's offensive decisions, such as pinch-hitting Thomas in the fourth.

Holbrook said Tanner started feeling better after that home run got the Gamecocks off the mat.

"We had to be mentally tough," Thomas said, "and battle for as long as it was going to go."

Reach Travis Haney at thaney@postandcourier.com, check out the Gamecocks blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/gamecocks and follow him on Twitter (@gamecocksblog).