HOOVER, Ala. -- They've cobbled together winning streaks of 22 and 20 games, they've broken the school record for regular-season wins with 50, and they've set a mark for conference victories with 25.
But the only number that mattered to South Carolina's Gamecocks on Thursday afternoon was 1, their number of wins in the SEC Tournament since 1992.
After their tournament losing streak was pushed to 0-for-13 in a loss to eighth-seed Kentucky early Thursday morning, the top-seed Gamecocks bade the swoon farewell 16 hours later when they beat fifth-seed Auburn, 11-4, before 5,315 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
"We're happy to still be alive," said Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner, whose team's 51 victories tied a school record. "We probably won't know how to act being here for three games."
South Carolina advances to play the loser of Thursday night's Florida-Kentucky game tonight at 7.
Tied at 2 heading into the seventh, the Gamecocks turned a potential plank walk into a cake walk with a nine-run explosion in the final three innings, including a five-run ninth that made sure things were out of reach.
Brennan Dees and Trey Dyson highlighted the day by combining for four of the Gamecocks' seven hits and six of their nine RBI. Auburn's 8-7 edge in hits was offset by 11 walks issued by Tigers pitchers.
South Carolina (51-7) was more mortal than mythological against Kentucky, becoming the first top seed to lose to an eighth seed in the SEC Tournament since 1989.
But Auburn coach Hal Baird, whose team was swept by the Gamecocks at home in mid-March, said they wore the mark of a champion Thursday. It was South Carolina's 10th consecutive win over the Tigers, who are 40-18.
"They are so used to winning in so many ways," said Baird who, thanks to his impending retirement following the season, coached his last SEC Tournament game. "Each time we walked a guy or hit a guy or created an opportunity, they bunted, ran, or hit-and-ran themselves in runs.
"I think that's the difference. They're just a very accomplished, confident team that fully expects to win every game."
The Gamecocks already have secured a spot as a host in next week's NCAA Tournament regional, and it's doubtful that a hasty exit here would've obliterated their chances of playing host to a super regional the week after.
But there was little doubt that South Carolina needed this victory, if only to scare away the tournament demons that haunted it for so long.
"I'm happy about that," Tanner said of breaking the streak. "That's for sure."
South Carolina starter Peter Bauer (12-1) faced 15 consecutive batters through one stretch without giving up a hit, but Auburn staggered him in the sixth with three hits and two runs that tied it at 2.
But the Gamecocks answered in the seventh against Auburn starter Chris Bootcheck (9-1), who had given up just two hits through six innings. Drew Meyer advanced to first after having been hit by a pitch for the second time of the day, then Dees hit a bases-loaded single to right that scored two and put South Carolina up 4-2.
Bootcheck was replaced after the seventh, but reliever Colter Bean promptly surrendered a solo homer by Chris Plummer that pumped the lead to 6-2.
Auburn shaved it to 6-4 when Faulkner hit a two-RBI single with the bases loaded, prompting Tanner to pluck Bauer in favor of reliever Scott Barber.
South Carolina gave Barber plenty of room to work when Dyson set the 5-run ninth in motion on a bases-loaded single to right. Barber earned a school-record 13th save for the Gamecocks, who can catch up on their sleep this morning.
"It wasn't hard for me to get up," Tanner said, "because I didn't sleep too much last night."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.
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