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A Weekend Affair: #3 South Carolina Outlasts #1 Vanderbilt in Tense Three-Game Set

We could tell you all about how the seventh inning of Sunday's rubber match between South Carolina and Vanderbilt felt for the Commodores, but fortunately QBs Coach Ricky Rahne and our friends over at Every Day Should Be Saturday were able to succinctly put it into .gif form.

Click the .gif to make it work, because it's just been that kind of day.

Yeah, that about nails it.

Full recap is on its way, but I'm battling a burst eardrum and it'll be a bit late. Check back as the day progresses for updates.

Vanderbilt held a 3-1 lead going into the seventh inning in what had been a hotly contested game on Sunday afternoon. Under the national lens of an ESPN2 broadcast, the 'Dores battled back from a 1-0 deficit on the strength of three solo home runs from Jason Esposito and Aaron Westlake. The spotlight was even brighter in Columbia, as Gamecock fans packed Carolina Stadium in a three-game sellout that set a school attendance record. 

As Taylor Hill's day on the mound wound down, the Commodores turned to their highly-touted bullpen to carry the team to a series win. The game's playoff-like atmosphere was on full display as Coach Tim Corbin burned through four relievers in search of the best matchups at the plate. However, it was all for naught.

A leadoff double, followed by a walk and a bunt that turned into a single when Will Clinard couldn't keep his feet loaded the bases for SC pinch-hitter Greg Brodzinski. Kevin Ziomek plunked him with his second pitch of the game to set off a rally that turned Vandy's lead into a 3-5 deficit. The 'Dores would come back to put the go-ahead run at the plate in the ninth inning, but Tony Kemp struck out looking with the tying run on second base to seal the loss.

It was a brutal loss for the 'Dores, who slid from #1 to #3 in the USA Today rankings with the series defeat. However, things weren't all bad for Vanderbilt, who still went 2-2 for the week and showed that they'll remain in the conversation when it comes time to determine the national #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. So far, it looks like the safe bet for the top ranking in the postseason will come down to current #1 Virginia and the winner of the SEC Tournament, should it be either South Carolina or Vanderbilt.

Check out the rest of the week's results after the jump...

Game 0 - Vanderbilt 1, Middle Tennessee State 0: Five Vanderbilt pitchers combined for the team's fifth shutout of the season as the 'Dores won a squeaker over the Blue Raiders in midweek action. Mike Yastrzemski's RBI double drove in Anthony Gomez in the sixth inning to score the deciding run. T.J. Pecoraro earned his sixth win of the season and improved his ERA to 1.40 while Navery Moore notched his seventh save of the season.

Game 1 - South Carolina 3, Vanderbilt 1: Sonny Gray gave up a career-high 11 hits in 7.2 innings and Vandy's offense couldn't overcome Michael Roth's dominance on the mound for the Gamecocks. The 'Dores managed a season-low three hits to drop the series opener in Columbia. 

Game 2 - Vanderbilt 6, South Carolina 4: Vanderbilt's offense carried them to six runs, and the bullpen did the rest, shutting out South Carolina over the final three innings to even the series at one game apiece Saturday night. Jason Esposito and Yastrzemski each homered and Tony Kemp put together a 5-5 performance at the plate to spark his team. Grayson Garvin was decent in six innings, but it was the bullpen - which allowed just one hit over three innings - that drove this team to the victory.

Game 3 - South Carolina 5, Vanderbilt 3: Heartache, implosions, pain. See above.


The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...

T.J. Pecoraro. Without his strong showing on Tuesday (5 IP, 2 h, 4 K), the 'Dores might be staring down a 1-3 week. It helps his case that the team's Sunday starters all struggled in stretches against South Carolina. Pecoraro has been dominant against Vandy's out-of-conference foes, but time will tell whether he's ready to face SEC-caliber talent as a starter.


The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...

Jason Esposito. Espo regained his stroke against South Carolina, crushing three home runs and edging out Aaron Westlake and Mike Yastrzemski for the award. Esposito had six hits and 16 total bases while driving in three runs for the week. In all, it was one of the weaker showings for a Clu Haywood winner, but given the talent of Vandy's opposition this week, that's to be expected.

So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made AoG plaques at our headquarters located in Stevens Point, Wisconsin - where apparently blizzards in April aren't only par for the course, but also considered prime weather for terrible lacrosse games*. Vanderbilt played valiantly, but couldn't summon the offense to keep the team out of the woods against South Carolina. However, the team was still just three innings away from their biggest series win of the season when the team's normally solid bullpen stumbled. It's no reason for concern, but rather an indicator of just how intense this year's SEC Tournament might end up being.

Now, the 'Dores are in line for a potential challenge against up-and-down LSU before a pair of easier series with Kentucky and Tennessee. If Vanderbilt can rebound, they'll be in prime position to rise back to the #1 spot in both the SEC and the NCAA. If not, they'll have to hold on to secure a national seed once the postseason rolls around. 

Next Game:

No weekday game this week.

Weekend Series:

vs. LSU

*see burst eardrum reference above.