May 30, 2004
Hoover, Ala. – Zac McCamie gave up hits to the first five Vanderbilt batters Sunday then settled down to pitch South Carolina to a 3-2 win and its first Southeastern Conference baseball tournament championship with relief help from Chad Blackwell who figured in all four Gamecock tournament wins.
South Carolina learned just before game time that it would be hosting an NCAA regional tournament for the 10th time and will go home to prepare for that event with a 45-15 record. Vanderbilt is also expected to receive a bid to the NCAA tournament and left Hoover with a 42-17 record.
The 2004 title game was in doubt until the very last pitch, a double play ball hit by Vanderbilt’s Ryan Klosterman to South Carolina first baseman Steve Pearce. He threw to shortstop Steven Tolleson to force pinch runner Zach Simpson and Tolleson’s return throw to Pearce beat Klosterman to seal the win.
South Carolina jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Landon Powell walked, Brendan Winn singled him to third and Kevin Melillo drove in Powell with a base hit.
Klosterman led off the bottom of the first with a double, the only extra base of the game. Klosterman moved to third on a hit by Antoan Richardson and scored when Warner Jones singled. Vanderbilt appeared on its way to a big inning but McCamie picked Richardson off second base. Cesar Nicolas beat out an infield hit and Mike Baxter singled, the fifth consecutive Commodore hit, to load the bases. McCamie retired Aaron Garza on a pop up and Tony Mansolino on a fielder’s choice to escape with just one run allowed.
Vanderbilt took a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning when Worth Scott singled, stole second and moved to third on a throwing error by Powell. Scott scored on a bloop single by Jonathan Douillard.
The Gamecocks quickly got that run back plus one and ended the day’s scoring in the top of the sixth inning., although Vanderbilt continued to threaten. Melillo, Pearce and Michael Campbell singled in succession and ended the day for Vanderbilt starter Jeff Sues. Melillo scored on the hit by Campbell and Davy Gregg singled off relief pitcher Stephen Shao to drive in Pearce.
McCamie picked up the win to improve his season record to 6-0. Blackwell, the winning pitcher in the 10 inning 7-6 win over Mississippi Wednesday night, earned his third save of the tournament despite some anxious moments. Sues took the loss, his first of the year, to drop to 4-1.
McCamie retired the first Vanderbilt batter in the eighth inning before being replaced by Blackwell. The first two batters he faced, Nicholas and Baxter, singled before Blackwell retired the side with no damage on the scoreboard. In the bottom of the ninth inning Douillard reached on a one out error to put the tying run on base but Klosterman hit into the double play to end the game.
Tolleson and Melillo were named co-most valuable players of the tournament although neither was named to the all-tournament team that was dominated by Vanderbilt with five selections. The only Gamecock named all-tournament was right fielder Winn. Vanderbilt’s all-tournament players were pitcher Jeremy Sowers, catcher Douillard, second baseman Warner Jones, shortstop Klosterman, and designated hitter Nicolas. Others on the team included pitcher Connor Falkenbach, first baseman C. J. Smith and third baseman Jonathan Tucker of Florida, outfielder Jake Dugger of Arkansas, and outfielder Eli Iorg of Tennessee.
In assessing the championship, South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said: “It would be an understatement to say that I wasn’t proud. We’re really clicking, pitching and hitting home runs when we need to. We’ve really been a tough team to beat down the stretch.”
About his performance, McCamie said: “I wasn’t shaking but maybe five minutes into the first inning and I settled down during the second and third and gave it to Blackwell to shut it out.”
On hosting the regional Powell said: “Melillo and I were throwing when they announced the regional sites. We wanted to come in here and win some games and hopefully to get to host a regional. Number one, I wanted to play in front of our fans because it feels like we have 5,000 players instead of 25.”
Earlier in the day Powell was named to the All-America team selected by USA Today Sports Weekly.