The Gamecocks reached into their bag of pitchers and came up with a stopper. Daniel Watts, normally a starter, entered the game in relief, struck out eight of the 10 batters he faced, and gave Jacksonville State the chance it needed in the middle innings to gain some separation.
The Gamecocks battered four Eastern Michigan pitchers for 14 hits en route to a 17-9 win on Sunday at Rudy Abbott Field, giving the Gamecocks the series.
“It was exciting,” Watts said. “It was just adrenaline pumping and knowing the guys believe in me back there. I was going right at them, not thinking about it too much.”
Watts set JSU’s Division I record for most consecutive outs by strikeout with the eight Ks. He entered the game with the bases loaded in the top of the fourth, no outs and three runs already in. He induced a pop fly from the Eagles’ Zack Leonard, then struck out the next two batters to get the Gamecocks out of the inning.
“That’s a big part of the game. Momentum shifted,” Gamecocks coach Jim Case said. “They were putting together a big inning. When he came in, he was facing their most productive player (Leonard). When he got the pop up, it took the pressure off.
“After that, he was filling the plate with strikes. He was very aggressive and went right at them.”
Watts shut down the Eagles in the fifth and six innings, giving up a leadoff single, then striking out the next six batters he faced. Watts was the fifth pitcher the Gamecocks used and one of eight total, but was by far the most effective. It was a much-needed outing for Watts (1-3), who was shaky in his first four starts this season, giving up 32 hits and 30 runs in 10 1/3 innings.
“It was good for him to have a day like (Sunday),” Case said. “A lot of times, that can turn you around when you’re struggling. I hope that happens.”
The hitting leaders were numerous for the Gamecocks (6-9), as well. The Gamecocks trailed 6-4 in the fourth inning, but the beginning of Watts’ performance shut down the Eagles and set up things for JSU.
Designated hitter Bert Smith climbed closer to tying the JSU hits record with a pair of hits, four RBIs and four runs. Smith entered the game with 255 career hits, just three short of Clay Whittemore (2006-08), and now trails by just one.
He also extended his hitting streak to 11 games.
“It’s something that comes with the game if you play long enough, but not anything you focus on or make your main goal,” Smith said.
Smith, who said he’s sure he’ll “have it on his mind,” will have his first shot to tie the record on Tuesday night when the Gamecocks travel to play Samford.
The Gamecocks broke the game open in the bottom of the fourth inning. After yielding the lead to the Eagles — who scored three runs in the top half — the Gamecocks came right back.
JSU sent 11 batters to the plate and scored six runs in an inning that started with Jay Davis (1-for-4, 3 RBIs) crushing a solo shot over the right-field fence to open the inning. Todd Cunningham (2-for-4, RBI) singled in a run, while Smith doubled in a pair, Daniel Adamson pushed a run across with a walk and Davis drove in a second run with a groundout.
“We pressured them the first two days,” Case said. “When you’re able to get into the bullpen on Friday and Saturday, if you can do that on Sunday, you’ve got a chance to score a lot of runs. It was big to answer them.”
Catcher Andrew Edge had another big game, as well, going 2-for-6 with a pair of doubles and driving in four runs.
“It’s a good thing if we can hit like that and score runs,” Smith said.
The Gamecocks tacked on three runs in the fifth and four in the seventh. Also for the Gamecocks, Kyle Bluestein was 2-for-4 with an RBI, Jake Sharrock was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs and Blake Seguin was 2-for-4 and three runs.