April 28, 2013
MISSISSIPPI STATE, Miss. - Seventh-inning home runs from juniors Dana Hathorn and Ashlyn Masters propelled South Carolina (30-20, 7-14 SEC) to a 5-4 victory on Sunday to sweep the series at Mississippi State (31-19, 7-14 SEC) for the first time in the SEC three-game set.
Leading off the inning, Hathorn went to an 0-2 count but drove next pitch over the wall in left to break the 3-3 tie and give South Carolina the lead. After a fly out, Masters drove the 1-1 offering from Bulldog pitcher Alison Owen over the wall 10 feet fair, posting what turned out to be a very-important insurance run.
With two down in the bottom of the seventh, Erin Nesbit hit a solo homer to left, cutting the Gamecocks' lead to 5-4. But South Carolina freshman pitcher Katie Marks (7-7) struck out the next batter to end the contest and hand South Carolina its first three-game road sweep of any foe in SEC play since the 2008 series at Kentucky.
Marks came on in relief of starter Julie Sarratt with two on in the fourth and struck out her first batter before making a catch out of the circle to end the inning. The rookie got the win in relief, tossing 3.2 innings with two hits and a walk while striking out three. Owen (15-10) took the loss for the Bulldogs, allowing two earned runs on three hits in 3.1 innings out of the bullpen.
The Gamecocks loaded the bases in the first with no one out with a hit by senior shortstop Samie Garcia, a walk to freshman left fielder Alaynie Page and a hit-by-pitch to junior second baseman Dana Hathorn. After a line out, Masters battled for a walk in a seven-pitch at bat to force in a run. Junior right fielder Chelsea Hawkins sent a fly ball to left deep enough to allow Page to score and make it 2-0.
Mississippi State answered in the second with three runs. With the bases loaded, Jessica Offutt got hit by a pitch, forcing in Shelby Fisher to make it 2-1 in favor of the Gamecocks. After Sarratt got a strikeout, Heidi Shape hit one back through the middle to score two and give the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead.
South Carolina tied things again in the fourth on Garcia's two-out single up the middle. That scored junior pinch runner Brooke Barnhill, who came on after redshirt senior first baseman Kelley Dillon opened the frame with a single. Barnhill stole second and moved to third on a grounder, setting up Garcia's hit.
The Gamecocks helped the Bulldogs strand 11 base runners in the contest, including getting out of bases-loaded situations twice. Sarratt induced an infield pop fly in the first to end a rally before getting a strikeout to wrap the third.
Garcia went 4-for-4 with a double, a run and an RBI to lead the Gamecocks. Masters went 2-for-3 with the homer, her second of the weekend and third of the season, and two RBI. Hathorn also hit her fourth homer of the season. Shelby Fisher stood as the only Bulldog to collect two hits, adding a double. Nesbit's homer was her second of the year.
The Gamecocks now stand tied for 10th in the SEC Tournament picture and hold the tiebreaker over both Auburn and Mississippi State, the other two teams at 7-14 in league play. Auburn plays at Arkansas next weekend, while Mississippi State heads to Texas A&M. Barring rainouts, the Gamecocks will need to match the win totals of the Tigers and Bulldogs to clinch the final spot in the tourney, which begins on May 8 in Lexington, Ky.
South Carolina returns home for the final weekend of the regular season, hosting No. 2/3 Florida at Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field. Friday's first pitch is set for 6 p.m. EDT, while Saturday is a 2 p.m. start. Sunday's contest, which will be Senior Day for the Gamecocks, is slated for a 1 p.m. first pitch.
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