Champs begin with opening weekend sweep - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Champs begin with opening weekend sweep

Outfielders Adam Matthews and Jackie Bradley Jr. celebrate their 2-0 lead after Christian Walker's two-RBI double. (Source: TheBigSpur.com) Outfielders Adam Matthews and Jackie Bradley Jr. celebrate their 2-0 lead after Christian Walker's two-RBI double. (Source: TheBigSpur.com)
Senior Brady Thomas awaits the tag at home after Matthews' perfect throw from right. (Source: TheBigSpur.com) Senior Brady Thomas awaits the tag at home after Matthews' perfect throw from right. (Source: TheBigSpur.com)

COLUMBIA, SC (TheBig Spur) - As the sun came out, the bats warmed up. South Carolina scored four runs in the sixth inning to break open a scoreless tie en route to a 6-0 victory and three-game sweep of Santa Clara in front of 7,316 at Carolina Stadium.

Just like Saturday, the Gamecocks (3-0) were kept off balance early by the Broncos (0-3) starting pitcher but eventually found a way to string together enough hits to come away with a victory. Sophomore Christian Walker registered his third multi-hit game of the year, the only player to do that, and drove home three runs.

What the Gamecocks needed offensively, Walker was able to provide because the pitchers, for the second straight day, were marvelous. Four pitchers combined to allow just four hits over nine innings as the Carolina arms continued to dominate the hitters of the Broncos.

"All the games that we played were in the balance at some point or another," South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. "It wasn't an easy weekend for us. We had some quality pitching and timely hitting. I was very grateful about our crowd, our fans being here this weekend. That means a lot to us and we're grateful for that."

Making his first appearance in a Carolina uniform since May 2009, sophomore Adam Westmoreland came out of the blocks filling up the strike zone. He found himself in little trouble throughout the game. After retiring the first five hitters, back-to-back singles in the top of the second put two on with two down. However, the southpaw was able to bear down and record his second strikeout of the game.

"The thing that was so important to me was that he was comfortable," Tanner said. "He was around the strike zone. Even when he was behind, he was close. He was outstanding today and I was really excited to see that. I think he has a chance to get better as we go."

But as much trouble as the Broncos were having with Westmoreland, the Gamecocks were having equally as difficult of a time with Santa Clara starter Chris Mendoza. The righty was spotting up his 82 mile-per-hour fastball and also kept the home side off balance with his breaking pitches.

The first two times through the lineup, the Gamecocks could garner only three hits.

"He was doing just enough to keep us from squaring balls up," Walker said. "We hit a couple balls hard they just weren't finding holes early. That's the way it goes. You have to make adjustments."

Westmoreland retired his first two hitters of the sixth before allowing a two-out walk on his 79th pitch of the game. That would be his limit as senior Jose Mata was called upon. He issued a five-pitch walk to put two runners on and then a line drive single to right. First baseman Curtis Wagner rounded third and right fielder Adam Matthews came up firing. The junior uncorked a one-hop strike home and catcher Brady Thomas put the tag down getting the runner easily.

That kept the score 0-0 and kept Westmoreland from allowing a run in his return. The lefty tossed 5.2 scoreless innings giving up three hits, one walks, and striking out five. He wouldn't get the win on the stat sheet but it was certainly a victory of an outing.

"It's been about 18 months and it feels awesome to be able to go back out there and do it again," Westmoreland said. "The crowd gave me a really warm welcome and it's just good to be back."

With a little bit of momentum, the Gamecocks came out swinging in the bottom of the sixth. The third time through the order was the charm as Matthews led off with a bunt single and found his way to third on a hit-and-run single by Jackie Bradley Jr. South Carolina had its first real threat off Mendoza with Walker coming to the plate.

After a visit to the mound from the coach, Mendoza went to work on Walker. The cleanup hitter turned on a 2-2 fastball that caught too much of the plate and lined it off the top of the left field wall. Both Matthews and Bradley Jr. came around to score easily to give South Carolina a 2-0 lead and the Broncos had yet to register an out.

"I was looking fastball because he wasn't throwing too many changeups for strikes," Walker said. "I was sitting fastball and he brought it in on me."

After a walk, sacrifice bunt, and intentional walk, the bases were loaded for sophomore Evan Marzilli, who entered the game for defensive purposes in left in the top of the inning. A wild pitch brought home Walker from third and Marzilli's sacrifice fly to center brought home Brady Thomas to give the Gamecocks a 4-0 lead.

Espanoza, who was chased after the Walker double, pitched five-plus innings allowing three runs on six hits and one walk. He was not able to strike out any Gamecocks, but hit one in 82 pitches.

RBI singles by Walker and Marzilli in the seventh and eighth inning tacked on a run to give the Gamecocks their winning margin.

Relievers Logan Munson and Forrest Koumas, both of whom were making their first career appearances at South Carolina, shut it down over the final 1.2 innings. Munson faced two batters and earned a strikeout and ground out. After walking his first batter and falling behind his second in the count, Koumas retired six straight, including three on strikeouts.

In the series, 12 different South Carolina pitchers saw action and held its competition to five earned runs and 19 hits in 27 innings. The Gamecocks' staff struck out 25 and walked eight on the weekend.

South Carolina does not have a midweek game this week. The Gamecocks will host Southern Illinois next weekend with game times at 3 p.m., 3 p.m., and 1:30 p.m.

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