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March 29, 2009

Box Score

Lexington, Ky. – South Carolina broke a 1-1 tie with three runs in the top of the seventh inning on its way to a 4-2 victory over Kentucky on a brisk, cold Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Whit Merrifield tallied a RBI double and Nick Ebert knocked a two-run single in the three-run seventh as Carolina won its first SEC series of the season. The offense backed a solid outing by Gamecock right-hander Blake Cooper, who hurled his second career complete game to earn the victory. The Gamecocks are now 18-7 and 4-5 in the SEC while the loss drops Kentucky to 16-9 and 4-5 in league play. South Carolina returns to action on Tuesday evening at The Citadel with first pitch at Joe Riley Park in Charleston, S.C. set for 7 p.m.

Tied 1-1, the Gamecocks made their move in the top of the seventh inning. Bobby Haney got things going with a one-out base hit and Jackie Bradley, Jr. singled up the middle and off reliever Tyler Henry’s glove to give Carolina a pair of runners. Merrifield then drove in the go-ahead run with a RBI double down the right field line. Merrifield and Bradley, Jr. then would score as Nick Ebert drove a RBI single down the left field line to give Carolina a three-run cushion.

The four runs were enough for Cooper, who was stellar throughout the cold afternoon in Lexington. Cooper limited Kentucky to two runs on eight hits with five strikeouts and four walks to pick up the win. He is 4-2 on the year. Cooper’s complete game was the first by a Gamecock pitcher this year and his second of his career. His last CG came vs. Ole Miss on April 20, 2008.

It did get a little tricky in the bottom of the ninth with Kentucky loading the bases with no outs against the junior right-hander. Cooper, however, kept his composure and struck out Chris Bisson, induced Chris Wade into a sacrifice fly and ended the game with a ground out against Chris McClendon to give South Carolina the win. Kentucky reliever Tyler Henry suffered the loss and is now 0-3 for the season. He allowed two runs on two hits in 1.1 innings of work.

“I wasn’t sure we were going to play today,” said South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner. “The conditions were really terrible and I’m shocked that the game was played as well as it was by both teams. It was a great win for us. Blake Cooper really gutted up for us when we needed a big pitching performance and that gave us a chance to win. We came up with a couple of runs late, a great win on the road.”

South Carolina looked to score early in the top of the first inning as Jackie Bradley, Jr. reached base with a leadoff walk and made his way to third base on a failed pickoff attempt by Kentucky catcher Marcus Nidiffer. After a one-out walk to Nick Ebert, the Gamecocks looked to score the first run on a fly ball to left field by DeAngelo Mack. On the play, Kentucky left fielder Chad Wright went home with a perfect throw that got Bradley, Jr. for the third out of the inning and kept the game scoreless. The Gamecocks also had an opportunity in the second inning loading the bases against Kentucky starter Alex Meyer with a base hit by Andrew Crisp and walks to Jeffery Jones and Justin Dalles. With no outs, Meyer dug deep and got his first out of the frame with a strikeout on Scott Wingo. The freshman right-hander then caught a break as he picked off Jones at second base for the second out of the inning. With runners on the corners, Meyer proceeded to get out of the jam as he fielded a ground ball from Bobby Haney and threw to first base for the third out of the inning.

The Wildcats broke through first with a run against Cooper in the bottom of the fifth inning. Spencer Kapteyn led off with a double to left center, was sacrificed to third base and scored on Spencer Korus’ RBI double to left center.

Carolina struck back with a run in the top of the sixth inning to tie the game. Ebert drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second on Meyer’s wild pitch and scored on a RBI base hit from DeAngelo Mack. The single extended Mack’s hitting streak to seven games.

South Carolina and Kentucky each totaled eight hits for the game. Bradley, Jr. led the way with a 2-for-4 day at the plate for Carolina. He also owns a hitting streak of nine games. Ebert reached base five times with a team season-high of four walks and the RBI single. Bisson and Korus each tallied two hits for Kentucky.

Tuesday night’s game at The Citadel will be broadcast live on the Gamecock Radio Network and at South Carolina returns home Wednesday night then to host Furman. Both midweek games are scheduled for 7 p.m.