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Tar Heels rout USC again in Charlotte, scoring most runs against Gamecocks since 1997

April 12, 2017 GMT

CHARLOTTE — Maybe it’s the dazzling sight of the high-rises behind the right-field fence, the aroma of the barbecue in the concession stands, or the atmosphere of a big game in a big city. Regardless, when South Carolina ventures north to Charlotte, the Gamecocks look nothing like themselves.

One year after being routed 15-0 by North Carolina in the first neutral-site game between the two programs at BB&T Ballpark, the Gamecocks suffered a fate equally as frustrating. The fourth-ranked Tar Heels pounded out 14 hits against 10 USC pitchers Tuesday night, and demolished the Gamecocks again, this time 20-5 before a capacity crowd of 10,049.

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“We have a good team. It’s disappointing to come here in this park and play the way we did,” said USC head coach Chad Holbrook, a North Carolina graduate. “That’s why it hurts me. It’s just one game, but it will linger for me. That’s OK. I’m a big boy, and I’ll be fine.”

It tied last year’s loss in Charlotte as USC’s most lopsided margin of defeat since 2007, and marked the most runs the Gamecocks have allowed in a single game since a 30-7 blowout at the hands of Arkansas in 1997. USC pitchers issued 10 walks, seven in one inning.

“(John) Parke threw some good pitches and gave us some outs, but outside of that, the other guys couldn’t play catch and get any outs and throw the ball over the plate,” Holbrook said. “That’s disappointing, especially when it’s some older guys.”

L.T. Tolbert’s third homer in four games provided one of the few highlights for USC. Reliever Tyler Johnson, who hadn’t pitched since leaving a March 4 game against Clemson with soreness in his throwing arm, returned to the mound in the eighth and tossed a 1-2-3 inning capped by a strikeout.

“I feel good,” Johnson said. “It was a big, personal mountain to climb. I went out there and had every intention of feeling good. I can’t wait to build on this outing, and get back out there.”

Holbrook said Johnson was clocked in the low to mid-90s. “If anything came good out of that game, it was the few at-bats we had that were pretty good, and seeing him pitch again,” he said. “That bodes well for him being ready and available for the weekend. As long as he doesn’t feel sore tomorrow and the next day, he’ll go back into his closer’s role.”

South Carolina (21-11), ranked 17th in this week’s Baseball America poll, lost for the fifth time in eight games. Starting pitcher Cody Morris didn’t make it out of the first inning, reliever Colby Lee didn’t make it out of the second, and the Tar Heels (27-6) broke it open by batting around in a six-run fourth.

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But it got worse: North Carolina batted around again in the seventh, scoring seven runs using mainly substitutes, against a USC pitching staff simply unable to throw strikes. The Gamecocks walked seven men in the inning, hit another batter, and the remaining Tar Heels fans cheered sarcastically when USC reliever Tyler Haswell finally threw a strike.

“You’re not going to put yourself in danger by pitching your regular guys,” said Holbrook, who saved his top starters for this weekend’s series against Mississippi State. “You don’t want them not fresh for (SEC games) Friday and Saturday. We obviously threw some guys not ready to pitch against a team like that, and when you pitch guys who aren’t ready to pitch against a team like that, sometimes the score can get away from you.”

The women’s and men’s national championship basketball trophies were on display on the concourse, and the coaches who helped win them — South Carolina’s Dawn Staley and North Carolina’s Roy Williams — threw out ceremonial first pitches before the game. But any sense of collegiality evaporated in the first inning, when UNC jumped on USC for four runs and Gamecocks fans sensed they were in for another long night.

Morris, who entered the night with a 1.62 earned run average and a reputation as USC’s most reliable midweek starter, was lifted in the first after allowing four runs to seven batters, an onslaught that began with Tolbert’s first error of the year. Lee lasted four batters, and gave up two more runs in the second on a double by Logan Warmoth.

South Carolina briefly tried to make a game of it, crawling within 6-3 after a two-run homer by Tolbert and a Jacob Olson RBI single. But UNC put the game out of reach in the fourth, when five straight batters reached base, 10 men came to the plate, and Tyler Lynn provided the big blow with a two-run double.

“We were scoring, and we were hitting too, so we felt like we had a chance to stay in the ballgame,” Tolbert said. “It just didn’t go our way tonight.”