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May 16, 2009

Box Score

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Nick Ebert homered for the third consecutive day and South Carolina broke open a close game with four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning on its way to a 6-1 victory over Georgia to sweep a three-game SEC baseball series. Carolina improves to 37-19 and finished second in the SEC Eastern Division with a 17-13 conference record. Carolina has won 10 of the last 11 games. South Carolina is seeded fifth for next week’s SEC Tournament and will face fourth seeded Alabama, scheduled for 9:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, May 20.

Ebert went on a tear in the final conference weekend of the season as he finished the series batting 5-for-7 with four HR and 10 RBI. He also walked three times and was hit by pitch twice to reach base 10 times on the weekend. His RBI single in the bottom of the first gave Carolina a one-run lead and his solo home run in the bottom of the fourth gave Carolina a two-run cushion.

Nick Ebert, as a baseball player and a student athlete, you have to like him,” said South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner. “He shows up, he does things the right way. He never makes an excuse. He works extremely hard. He’s a joy to coach. He wasn’t performing (when he got here) and he had a dismal fall. He just wasn’t in the mix. He didn’t perform well enough to really get any consideration for playing time. In the preseason he was not very good. We recruited him to hit. We knew he wasn’t going to be a base stealer. Playing third base was probably a push. Right before the season started, we moved him to first and it seemed like when we moved him, a couple weeks prior to our opener, he became more comfortable offensively. After a few games we gave him a chance and the rest is history. You give the young man credit. He’s very physical. He works extremely hard. He’s a tough kid. If you don’t throw him strikes, he’ll walk. He’ll fight you at the plate. If he has a bad game or a bad at bat, he has the maturity to deal with it. He just responds. I’ve never seen him sulk and I’ve never seen him get down. He’s a very level player, which is very important.”

After Georgia plated home a run in the top of the eighth, the Gamecocks were able to distance themselves from the Bulldogs with a four spot in the bottom half of the eighth. With two outs and runners on second and third base, Bobby Haney laced a double down the left field line that scored both Ebert and Andrew Crisp. Scott Wingo capped off the inning with a two-run blast to right field for his fourth home run of the year and put Carolina in the driver’s seat with a 6-1 advantage.

“I’m extremely proud of our team and the way we finished the regular season,” said South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner. “From where were there weeks ago to where we are today has been a dramatic turn for us. I can’t say enough good things about the pitching staff, the hitters, defense has been good. We’ve been able to play our best baseball when it’s the most critical time of the year. I’m ecstatic. We won this series. (We allowed) two runs, four runs and one run in the three games. We had great pitching performances against a team that’s very good, very physical. (They were) No. 1 earlier in the year.”

Carolina went with a predetermined split in Saturday’s game. Right-handed Blake Cooper hurled two scoreless innings in the start to pick up a win. He is 8-4 on the year. His start was followed up by a strong relief effort by senior right-hander Jay Brown. Brown kept the Bulldogs at bay with six innings of work allowing just one run on three hits with four strikeouts and two walks. Senior right-hander Curtis Johnson closed the game out with one scoreless inning of work in the ninth to preserve Carolina’s victory. Georgia starting pitcher Justin Grimm lasted only 3.2 innings and yielded a pair of runs on four hits to suffer the loss. He is 2-4 for the season.

The Gamecock pitching staff finished with a 2.00 ERA in this weekend’s series and allowed just seven runs, six earned, on 16 hits with 34 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched against Georgia.

For the third consecutive day, the Gamecocks out-hit the Bulldogs. The eight-hit day included two hits from both Ebert and Wingo. DeAngelo Mack extended his hitting streak to 17 games. Ebert’s 22nd home run of the season ties him with Justin Smoak (2007) and Tripp Kelly (2000) for the fourth highest single-season home run total in school history. Andrew Crisp also hit his 21st double on the year that ties him for the ninth highest single-season mark in Gamecock history.