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May 29, 2004

Final Stats

Hoover, Ala. – South Carolina managed just four hits Saturday but two of them by Brendan Winn drove in a pair of runs and the Gamecocks staved off a ninth inning Arkansas rally to advance to the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game with a 3-2 victory.

Billy Buckner, 6-2, was the winning pitcher with Chad Blackwell earning his conference leading 14th save, but the Gamecocks had to sweat throughout. Buckner pitched six shutout innings but Arkansas had base runners against him in every inning but the fourth.

Buckner allowed six hits, walked three and struck out five. Justin White, 2-3, took the loss for Arkansas. He worked five plus innings and allowed three hits, three runs, two earned. He walked two and struck out five.

South Carolina will meet Vanderbilt at 3 p. m., Central time, Sunday in Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. Vanderbilt eliminated Florida 6-5 in 12 innings in the first Saturday game. South Carolina improved its overall record to 44-15 and Vanderbilt moved to 42-16 with its win over Florida. Arkansas dropped to 39-21 and Florida to 40-20.

South Carolina was out hit 10-4 by Arkansas and all of the Gamecock hits were singles but Carolina took a 3-0 lead into the top of the ninth inning before the Hogs staged a rally that fell just short of tying or taking the lead. When reliever Jason Fletcher walked Brady Toops to open the ninth inning Blackwell relieved him and the first three batters he faced singled to drive in the first Arkansas run and leave the bases loaded with no outs. Blackwell struck out Casey Rowlett, retired Brett Hagedorn on a sacrifice fly that scored Bubbs Merrill, and coaxed Scott Hode to ground to third baseman Bryan Triplett to end the game.

Merrill, the first batter to face Blackwell, pinch hit for Devin Day and grounded a single to right field, Toops stopped at second. Scott Bridges beat out an infield hit to load the bases. Jake Dugger singled, his fourth hit of the game, to score Toops. Casey Rowlett struck out but Brett Hagerdorn lifted a sacrifice fly to right field to score Merrill. Bridges tagged and moved to third on the play. Blackwell then retired Hode to end the rally and the game.

South Carolina scored an unearned run in the first inning when Steven Tolleson reached on an error, was sacrificed to second and scored on a two out single by Winn. The Gamecocks moved out front 3-0 with two sixth inning runs. Tolleson walked and Triplett beat out a bunt single. Landon Powell singled to drive in Tolleson and send Triplett to third. He scored on Winn’s second single of the game.

The South Carolina-Vanderbilt match up will mark the first time two Eastern Division team have met in the Southeastern Conference championship game since 1984. The last time an Eastern Division team won the title was 1991 when Florida downed Louisiana State.

South Carolina is in the title game for the second time since joining the conference in 1992. The Gamecocks lost the tournament title to Alabama two years ago. Vanderbilt last played for the SEC tournament title in 1980. Both finalists went 3-0 in the double elimination phase to advance to the sudden death title game. South Carolina defeated Mississippi 7-6 in 10 innings and Tennessee 5-1 before meeting Arkansas. Vanderbilt won two shutouts, 6-0 over Georgia and 3-0 over Florida before outlasting the Gators 6-5 in 12 innings.

Dugger had two doubles and two singles in five at bats to pace the 10 hit Arkansas attack. Hagedorn had two hits. Winn’s two hits paced South Carolina. Other Gamecock hits were by Powell and Triplett.