May 18, 2002
Athens, GA - Fourth ranked South Carolina collected 20 hits Saturday, five of them by Steve Thomas, to defeat Georgia 12-4 and take a 2-0 lead in the final regular season Southeastern Conference baseball series of the season.
By winning their fifth game in a row South Carolina improved its record to 43-12, 20-8 in the SEC going into the final game Sunday. Georgia dropped to 30-24, 15-14. The Gamecocks clinched first place in the Eastern Division of the conference. The Gamecocks were tied for the overall lead after Louisiana State shut out Western Division leader Alabama 4-0 in the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday.
Results of the second LSU-Alabama game would determine if South Carolina has a half game lead or is half a game behind going into the final day of the regular season. South Carolina, which had a conference game canceled by weather at Arkansas, will play only 29 conference games to 30 for Alabama.
The Saturday win assured that South Carolina would win nine of 10 SEC series this season.
As Eastern Division champions South Carolina will be seeded no lower than second in the SEC tournament which begins Wednesday at Hoover, Ala.
David Marchbanks, 8-3, was the winning pitcher Saturday while Bill Sharpton, 6-5, took the loss. Marchbanks pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowed six hits and two earned runs. He walked four and struck out four.
Thomas, who drove in four runs with a home run and a double in the Friday night 11-9 South Carolina win over Georgia, Doubled in the first inning Saturday, homered in the third, and had singles in the fourth, eighth and ninth innings. The senior right fielder also drew a walk in the sixth inning. He drove in three runs, giving him seven for the two games of the series.
The Saturday double was the 23rd of the season for Thomas, one shy of the record of 24 set in 1986 by Dave Smyth. The homer was his ninth.
Gary Bell, playing left field for the injured Garris Gonce, drove in three runs with a pair of singles and a sacrifice fly. Primarily a pitcher, Bell, 8-2, may be the Gamecock mound starter on Sunday. Gonce left the Saturday game with a knee injury and his status remains in doubt until he is examined by an orthopedic surgeon in Columbia on Monday.
Drew Meyer and Brian Buscher had three hits apiece for South Carolina. The hits by Meyer included a pair of doubles and he drove in three runs. Buscher drove in two runs. Bell, Trey Dyson, Landon Powell and Kevin Melillo had two hits for the Gamecocks.
Adam Swann had three of Georgia's nine hits, including his 12th home run. He and Marshall Szabo drove in two runs each. Justin Holmes had two hits for the Bulldogs.
South Carolina, which leads the nation in defense with a .977 fielding percentage, played its 27th errorless game Saturday. The Gamecocks have committed only one error in 15 games.
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