Originally created 05/01/00

Gamecocks win 20th straight



COLUMBIA -- For the ninth time this season against Georgia, South Carolina found itself staring at a deficit entering the ninth inning Sunday afternoon.

And for the fifth time, the Gamecocks won.

Welcome to Columbia, where the reputed Chicken Curse is on extended vacation and feel-good moments are in as abundant supply as victories by South Carolina's top-ranked baseball team.

Win No. 45 -- and the 20th straight -- came when catcher Brandon Pack blasted a 3-run homer off Bulldogs' reliever Jeffery Carswell in the bottom of the ninth to give the Gamecocks a 9-7 victory, capping a comeback from a two-run deficit in the final frame.

To say endings such as these are surprising would be a vast overstatement. It's simply the way the Gamecocks (45-4 overall, 21-3 SEC) conduct their business.

"You don't have to win them all," said South Carolina coach Ray Tanner, whose team bagged its 15th come-from-behind win and its 10th that came in the sixth inning or later. "But boy, when you play to the last out, you have to be proud of your team. We've had a lot of good things happen for us, but the players make it happen."

South Carolina earned its second consecutive SEC East division title and broke a conference record with 16 consecutive SEC victories.

First-year Georgia coach Ron Polk, a 25-year veteran of SEC baseball wars, said the Gamecocks are, in terms of wins and losses, "by far the best I've ever seen."

Pack's line drive into the cloudless sky and over the wall in left center gave the Gamecocks a sweep of the Bulldogs (28-20, 12-11), and it provided the junior catcher with a dose of redemption.

With the score tied at 5 and with one out in the top of the seventh, Pack committed catcher interference before a routine out at first, allowing Georgia's Adam Swann to move to first and loading the bases.

"I stuck my glove out there a little bit," Pack said. "(Swann) clipped a piece of my leather with his bat."

On the next at-bat, Doc Brooks flew out to left, and the throw home by left-fielder Nate Janowicz appeared to beat the runner from third. But Pack couldn't handle the throw, and shortstop Andy Neufeld skipped across the plate to put the Bulldogs up 6-5.

Then, with runners at the corners, Pack's attempt to catch Swann stealing second sailed high and into center field, allowing Josh Hudson to score from third to pump it to 7-5.

"It was pretty much my fault," Pack said.

Another comeback appeared remote against Georgia's Bill Sharpton, who entered for starter Rob Moravek in the fifth and, after yielding a run, settled into a commanding groove by retiring 11 straight batters from then until the ninth.

But Sharpton walked Marcus McBeth to lead things off, then he was removed after surrendering a single by Janowicz (3-for-5, 1 RBI) that put runners on first and second with one out.

Freshman Drew Meyer pulled Carswell's first pitch into right field, scoring McBeth to cut the deficit to 7-6 and send Janowicz to third. Then Carswell struck Brennan Dees, setting up Pack's shot at redemption.

"I said, `Hey, settle in,' " said Tanner, recalling a dugout discussion with Pack. " `You're going to get a bat in the ninth here. Put that behind you and let's go the rest of the way.' "

Carswell (4-5) incurred the loss, while Clint Collins (3-1) pitched three no-hit innings and earned the win. Pack said Carswell's fateful offering was a low fastball, four inches outside.

"I knew it was going to be way off the plate, and I just stuck my bat out there and took it in the gap," Pack said. "I was pretty surprised, actually, that it went over the fence. But I was happy."

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.