Charleston Southern head coach Stuart Lake put it simply, “this is as big a win as we’ve had at CSU.”
The Buccaneers held No. 6 South Carolina hitless into the sixth inning to beat the Gamecocks, 4-1, on Tuesday night at Carolina Stadium.
CSU notches its third win in five days to improve to 19-20. South Carolina falls to 28-8.
CSU led from its opening at-bat to beat the Gamecocks for the first time since 1997. Leaving Columbia with a win over one of college baseball’s elite has extra meaning for Lake, a former South Carolina assistant.
“It’s special to me to come home and win,” Lake said following Tuesday’s game. “I grew up a Carolina fan, I coached there and had success, and now to see the hard work pay off with a win over them means a lot. Most of all, we’d like the win to give us some momentum heading into these last four conference series.”
Starter Joe Pistacchio and reliever Denis Buckley (WP, 2-0) held the Gamecocks without a hit for 5 2/3 innings and Buckley took a shutout to the ninth inning as CSU silenced the Gamecock bats and a crowd of over 7,000. Pistacchio cruised through the first two innings, before giving way to Buckley, who turned in a memorable performance.
“Those two guys were so good,” Lake said of his two pitchers. “ We were kind of pitching backwards, wanting Joe to get us out of the gate strong, and he did. Coach (Adam) Ward tried to take Buck (ley) out, but he was so determined to finish it. It was good to get Weekley in there to end it.”
Closer Austin Weekley (S,7) came on with the tying run at the plate in the ninth to strikeout Tanner English to seal the win.
The Bucs set the tone early behind Bobby Ison . The junior finished 3-for-5 and scored twice. He singled and scored in his first two at-bats to jolt the Bucs’ offense and mindset. Third baseman Alex Tomasovich drove Ison home twice in early to put some pressure on the USC offense. Lake was glowing after the game about the way the top of his lineup, especially Ison and Tomasovich, performed.
“They’re two special guys,” Lake said. “They were the stars we kind of need them to be. They started things tonight. (USC’s) starter (Evan Beal) is a quality pitcher and we were able to get a few off him early with quality at-bats. Bobby hit him hard and then came back to the dugout telling all of our guys what he saw.”
The No. 6 ranking ties the highest for a team Charleston Southern has beaten. Lake and the Bucs also topped a No. 6-ranked Florida team in 2010.
Ison picked up where he left off in the Bucs’ weekend series victory over Gardner-Webb to get CSU on the scoreboard in the top of the first against South Carolina starter Evan Beal. Ison singled through the middle, and scooted to third when Andrew Widell followed with a single to the right-center field gap. Ison crossed the plate a batter later on an Alex Tomasovich sacrifice fly to put the Bucs ahead, 1-0.
Pistacchio quickly set South Carolina aside in order in the home half of the first, and worked around two walks in the second to keep CSU in the lead before giving way to Buckley.
Buckley was masterful in notching his second win of the season, allowing just three runners to reach scoring position before turning it over to Austin Weekley for the game’s final out.
CSU gave Buckley a bigger lead to work with in third, scoring two runs on three hits to forge a 3-0 advantage and forced Beal from the mound. Ison again played the role of catalyst by stroking a single through the hole on the right side of the infield. After a Widell sacrifice bunt, Tomasovich came through with another RBI hit, lining a single to center field to score Ison for a 2-0 lead. Gamecock reliever Reed Scott was an out away from limiting the Bucs to one run in the frame, but Zach Hagaman recorded a clutch two-out hit to plate Tomasovich and provide a 3-0 cushion.
The top of the CSU order went to work again in the fifth to push the lead to 4-0. Widell laced a double down the right field line and crossed to third base with one out thanks to a Tomasovich single that capped a ten pitch at-bat. Shelton sent a groundball back through the box next for an RBI single, scoring Widell for a 4-0 advantage.
Buckley retired the first nine batters he faced before South Carolina mounted a two-out rally in its half of the fifth. Tanner English singled, stole second base and stood just 90 feet away after moving to third on a wild pitch, but was left there as Buckley induced a fly out from Gene Cone to escape unscathed.
Buckley worked his way out of more trouble in the sixth, thanks to a 5-4 double play that erased two lead runners who had delivered back-to-back singles for South Carolina.
The Bucs had a chance to add insurance in the ninth, but could not push across any markers against Gamecock reliever Josh Reagan. Ison cracked his third single of the night to put runners on the corners with two outs in that frame, but Reagan kept the South Carolina deficit at four by getting Widell to fly out to English in center field.
South Carolina did not go easily in the ninth, scoring a run on two hits and bringing the tying run to the plate in the person of English. All of the damage came following two Buckley strikeouts. Gamecock left fielder Patrick Harrington drew a walk to keep South Carolina alive, and eventually came around to score on Jordan Gore’s single up the middle. With Gore at first and D.C. Arendas at second, CSU called on Weekley to deliver the contest’s final out. Weekley did just that, inducing a swing-and-miss strikeout from English to notch his seventh save and secure a historic victory for the Bucs.
Charleston Southern gets little time to rest. The Buccaneers travel to Asheville, N.C. on Thursday to face UNC Asheville to open a three-game Big South series.