**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Allen Sharpe**
Photo gallery (photos by Allen Sharpe)
After pitching led the way in a tight win over Presbyterian the night before, South Carolina needed its bats to take over on Wednesday against a hot-hitting Liberty team.
The Gamecocks trailed by five runs entering the bottom of the fifth, but they sent 10 men to the plate and scored six runs thanks to two huge home runs. That outburst was much-needed and gave South Carolina a lead they wouldn't relinquish in a 10-7 victory.
"We were down 6-1 there, and we hadn't displayed ourselves as an offensive juggernaut, so things really didn't look good at that point in time," head coach Chad Holbrook said. "To have a six-run inning and Danny come off the bench and get us going, that was neat to see."
Overall, the Gamecocks (29-19) hammered three long balls on the day. The aforementioned Danny Blair hit the first one to begin the fifth-inning outburst and Riley Hogan's three-run shot put the Gamecocks on top, 7-6. Carlos Cortes added a two-run blast to right for insurance in the sixth.
"Two really big swings of the bat," Holbrook said of Blair and Hogan. "Maybe we look back at it and say maybe two of the biggest swings we've had all year. Hopefully that's what I'll look back and say."
Liberty (29-18) was able to take an early lead in the first inning. D.J. Artis, an electrifying leadoff hitter who carried a .364 batting average and 50 runs in 43 games into Wednesday's game, ripped a leadoff double to begin the game. After taking third on a flyout, he would come home on a sacrifice fly by Jake Barbee to make it 1-0.
Another leadoff double to begin the second led to another run for Liberty. Eric Grabowski was the culprit this time, and after a groundout moved him to third with one out, Grabowski scored on a RBI groundout by Payton Scarbrough.
The next batter, Cam Locklear, blasted a solo home run off South Carolina starter Colby Lee to give the Flames a 3-0 lead after one and a half innings.
Lee did not give up a leadoff double to begin the third inning – unfortunately it was a leadoff triple. Artis picked up his second extra base hit of the contest, and would come home on a sacrifice fly by Trey McDyre to make it 4-0 Liberty.
The Gamecocks were able to get one run back in the fourth inning. A one-out walk by Alex Destino started things and Jacob Olson gave South Carolina its first hit of the day with a grounder into left field. A walk by Jonah Bride loaded the bases and Hogan's sacrifice fly scored Destino to make it 4-1 Liberty. Hunter Taylor grounded out to end the frame with two on, however.
After giving up runs in each of the first three innings, Lee was able to get a much-needed 1-2-3 inning in the fourth. However, a leadoff single to begin the fifth signaled the end for Lee, who gave up five runs on five hits in four-plus innings pitched to go with two strikeouts. He was replaced by Graham Lawson, who would give up a one-out RBI single to Artis. An error by Hogan at first put runners on the corners with one out, and Barbee popped a single to left to score another run and make it 6-1 Flames halfway through the game.
Blair was forced to enter the game in the fourth inning when TJ Hopkins was taken out, and the sophomore made a big splash an inning later. In his first plate appearance, Blair smashed his first career home run to deep right field off Liberty starting pitcher Zach Clinton. It was a two-run shot that cut the deficit to three runs.
South Carolina was not done there.
Cortes lined out for the second out in the fifth, but Destino walked for the third time and Olson notched his second single to set up Bride, who singled to bring home Destino to make it 6-4.
Then up came Hogan, who more than made up for his error at first earlier. On an 0-1 pitch, Hogan launched a three-run homer to right that suddenly put South Carolina in front, 7-6.
"He hung a curveball, and it went pretty fall," Hogan said simply.
Hogan entered the game with four RBI on the season. He had four on Wednesday night.
Colie Bowers entered the game to start the sixth inning, and after two quick outs got into a bit of trouble. A single and another error by Hogan at first put runners on the corners with two outs. Artis, the go-ahead run, stole second, but Bowers was able to get a big strikeout to end the inning.
The senior ended up going three-plus strong innings, allowing just one hit to go with six strikeouts and four walks. He picked up the win to improve to 4-1 on the year.
"I knew I had to get out of the jam I got myself into, and when I got out of it, it was definitely a big boost to my mentality," Bowers said. "It helped me get through the rest of my outing."
Cortes then added his two-run homer in the sixth to give South Carolina some insurance. The Gamecocks received more insurance in the seventh when they loaded the bases with one out, and Blair was able to pick up an RBI groundout to make it 10-6 after seven.
Tyler Johnson ran into some trouble in the ninth inning, and had to be replaced by Reed Scott. A run scored to make it 10-7, but Scott picked up two strikeouts to end the game.
Destino set a new school record with five walks in a single game. Liberty wanted nothing to do with him on Wednesday night.
"I swung once tonight," Destino said. "I've definitely never been walked five times. It was different."
The 10 runs by the Gamecocks on Wednesday were the most since a 15-1 pounding of The Citadel on March 28.
"We've just been clicking," Blair said. "Even at LSU, we didn't get the series win, but we started clicking together as a team. We're playing a lot better. Last night we got the win, and tonight (as well). It's good to get the momentum going."
South Carolina returns to action on Friday when it begins a three-game SEC series at Missouri.