May 24, 2006
Hoover, Ala. - Jon Willard's dramatic 450 foot home run ignited a four-run ninth inning rally Wednesday and South Carolina survived a Kentucky threat in the bottom of the inning for a 4-2 victory in the opening game of the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament.
"We are very fortunate to win this game," said USC head baseball coach Ray Tanner. (Mike) Cisco and (Tommy) Warner were outstanding. I looked up at the scoreboard in the fifth inning and thought 'Wow, neither pitcher deserves to lose this game.' (Jon) Willard came up big for us in the ninth inning. No doubt it was a big blast and we took advantage of it."
The Gamecocks, who lost all three regular season games to Kentucky, advanced to meet the winner of the second Wednesday game between Vanderbilt and Georgia at 5 p.m., Central time on Thursday. South Carolina improved to 37-20 while the loss drops Kentucky to 42-14.
South Carolina freshman right-hander Mike Cisco and Kentucky sophomore Tommy Warner were locked in a classic pitcher's duel through eight innings. Each team had managed only three hits during that span with the Wildcats holding a 1-0 lead on the strength of a seventh inning solo home run by Sean Coughlin, his 17th of the season.
Neil Giesler led off the top of the ninth inning with his second single of the game and South Carolina's fourth hit. After Justin Smoak was retired on a pop to second base Willard pinch hit for Robbie Grinestaff and hit Warner's first pitch to deep center field. The drive sailed over the 405 foot sign and cleared the 20 foot high batter's backdrop behind the fence. Suddenly, the Gamecocks led 2-1. It marked Willard's third pinch hit homer of the year.
Andrew Crisp followed with a base hit and Warner was replaced by right-hander Matt Robinson. He gave up a double to Phil Disher, sending Crisp to third base. James Darnell was walked intentionally to load he bases and left-hander Andrew Albers replaced Robinson on the mound. Reese Havens forced Darnell at second base to drive in Crisp and Cheyne Hurst singled, South Carolina's fifth hit of the inning, to score Disher.
As things turned out, South Carolina needed the extra runs as Kentucky staged a bottom of the ninth rally against Gamecock relief pitcher Wynn Pelzer. Collin Cowgill hit a leadoff home run, his 16th, to cut the Gamecock lead to 4-2. Coughlin popped out but Pelzer gave up a single to Ryan Strieby and walked Michael Bertram and John Shelby to load the bases with only one out. With the potential tying run at second base and winning run at first, Pelzer struck out Billy Grace and got Ryan Wilkes on a fly to left field to end the game and earn his fifth save.
Cisco was the winner, improving is record to 6-4. He tied his career-high with eight innings pitched. Warner took his first loss of the season to drop to 3-1.
Cisco struck out four and walked none and threw only 79 pitches, going to a three ball count on only one batter. Warner also didn't walk anyone in 8 1/3 innings and threw 92 pitches.
"From the beginning, I thought I had good control on the fastballs," said Cisco. "That's what worked today. The last time against Kentucky, I had pretty good stuff, maybe better than today. "The difference today was that I didn't string pitches together. I got ahead and stayed ahead."
South Carolina finished with eight hits to five for Kentucky. Giesler and Hurst had two singles apiece for the Gamecocks. Justin Smoak also extended his hitting streak to 12 games. Wilkes was the only Kentucky batter with two hits.
Live audio broadcast for Thursday's game will be available on the Gamecock Radio Network and uscsports.com.
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