The senior left-hander threw only one pitch to get the final out of the eighth inning Thursday and was rewarded with his first victory of the season when Jacksonville State scored a run in the home half to push past Eastern Illinois 3-2.
“You don’t see that very often; I’m just happy we got the win, that’s all that matters,” Ponder said. “It was the shortest one, definitely.”
The effort was so, ugh, effortless, he didn’t even have to ice down after the game. Heck, he threw seven more pitches to catcher Cal Lambert getting used to the mound than he did to the hitter he faced.
Even Gamecocks coach Jim Case had a little fun at his pitcher’s expense. He asked the Pleasant Valley product in the press box if he could come back to pitch again in the Ohio Valley Conference series and later said the southpaw has any pride he’d consider giving the win back.
“I don’t remember having a one-pitch win,” Case said. “One hitter, yes, but to come in and throw one fastball and the guy flies out and that’s it … (no).”
Todd Hornsby had a one-pitch save against UT-Martin in March 2011. Travis Stout had a two-pitch save against UAB earlier this season. Tanner Freshour had a three-pitch win in a five-inning victory over Samford in 2011. Josh Forrest had a three-pitch win over UL-Monroe in 2006.
Actually, Ponder was part of a big percentage play by Case in the eighth that worked perfectly for the Gamecocks (13-14, 7-3 OVC). The coach lifted left-handed starter Casey Antley, who once again was sharp and quick, to have right-hander Michael Mason face right-handed-hitting Tyler Schweigert. Mason got a four-pitch fly out to center and his day was done.
Case then brought in Ponder to face left-handed-hitting Caleb Howell, who Case believed the most effective hitter in the Panthers’ lineup and had an RBI triple earlier in the game.
Ponder threw a fastball that Howell lifted into left field to end the inning.
“They had been aggressive all day, swinging at first pitches, so it didn’t surprise me that they swung at the first one,” Gamecocks shortstop Andrew Bishop said. “He got the win for that? I didn’t know that.”
Even though the Gamecocks have several lefties in their stable, there was no doubt it was always going to be Ponder in that situation.
Case said “there’s more” to playing the percentages than just a straight righty-for-lefty switch.
“Cody Ponder is extremely, extremely tough against left-handed hitters, there’s no question,” Case said. “If all he faced was left-handed hitters, he’d win every game. They just don’t hit him.
“There are other left-handers who are different than him who are really tough on right-handers. Some soft lefties are really tough on right-handers and can’t get lefties out at all because their ball runs back to them. You look at all of that.”
EIU coach Jim Schmitz played the similar righty-on-righty percentage in the bottom of the inning without the same success.
Schmitz bought in right-hander Scott Houdek to face the parade of righties at the bottom of JSU’s lineup, but couldn’t get him out of the game while the Gamecocks were loading the bases. Bishop brought the run home with a sacrifice fly.
The Panthers (6-16, 0-6 OVC) had a lefty preparing to warm in the bullpen, but the Gamecocks ran up five straight right-handed hitters and never sent a lefty into the box before the inning ended.
Bishop broke out of a mini slump with two extra base hits and two RBIs. He had an RBI triple in second to drive home to give the Gamecocks a 1-0 lead and scored the tying run in the seventh after a leadoff double. He had been 1-for-22 in his previous six games.
“That was the best part because I had been struggling,” the junior shortstop said. “I hit some balls hard at people. You try to keep good confidence but it’s hard to when you feel all right in there and you hit balls hard and they don’t fall for you.
“You’ve just got to keep swinging and keep working in the cages, and today luckily was the day that it fell.”
With the lead, Case turned the ninth over to Stout and the right-handed closer got the Panthers in order – on seven pitches – for his seventh save of the year.
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.