Chances are, no matter what happened behind Adam Miller on Friday afternoon, he would've shared the credit for his seven-hit shutout with the USC Beaufort baseball team's defense.
But after several head-shaking plays helped the junior left-hander keep Ave Maria off the board in the Sand Sharks' Sun Conference opener, Miller couldn't help but gush about his teammates' glove work.
"I was just throwing it down the middle half the game," Miller said. "They make it easy when they're making all those spectacular plays for me."
Center fielder R.J. Neal made a pair of eye-popping diving catches, third baseman David O'Neil took away at least two hits with highlight-reel plays at the hot corner, and the Sand Sharks claimed a 5-0 victory at Hardeeville's Richard Gray Baseball Complex.
"That kind of stuff feeds off of one another," USCB coach Rick Sofield said. "As bad as a booted ground ball can send guys in a direction, those great plays have a tendency for guys to want to get into the act. There's an energy that goes with all of that."
And the Sand Sharks certainly had a spring in their steps as they walked off the field after their sixth consecutive victory, having opened their third season of Sun Conference play on a good note.
USCB (7-1, 1-0 Sun Conference) gave Miller all he needed in the first inning, when they scored two runs without the benefit of a hit. Ave Maria starter Justin James walked in one run, and Ty Main drove in another with a sacrifice fly.
The Sand Sharks added another run on Gabe Torres' sacrifice fly in the second, and tacked on two more on Spencer Jackson's bases-loaded single up the middle in the sixth.
It added up to what seemed like an easy victory, but it could have been so much different. The Gyrenes (6-7, 0-1 Sun Conference) hit the ball hard at times, particularly in the third inning, when three stellar defensive plays stopped what might have been a big inning. Neal robbed Brian Trymbiski when he laid out for a line drive in the gap in right-center, and O'Neil took away two hits with a backhand grab on Gabe Loweree's hard grounder and a diving snare of Patrick Collins-Bride's liner down the third-base line.
"If we don't take away those hits, they probably score three or four runs that inning," Neal said. "They hit the ball good today, but we just played good defense."
Miller settled in nicely after that, keeping the Gyrenes off-balance with a mix of fastballs and change-ups. He needed only 101 pitches to finish the shutout, keeping USCB's bullpen rested for today's doubleheader beginning at noon.
"I'd like to see him finish a lot of games this year, and the only way to do it is give him a chance to finish some," Sofield said.
Sofield would like to see more of the same from today's starters -- right-hander Dexter Price will start Game 1, and left-hander Michael Heesch will start Game 2 -- and a repeat of the defensive performance would help, too.
"The age-old saying is when pitching and defense come together, the offense follows it," Sofield said. "It's no secret that if you pitch and play defense, you've got a chance, and if there's offense looming behind it, you wind up having a great chance to have a great year."
Ave Maria 000 000 000 -- 0 7 2
USCB 210 002 000 -- 5 6 1
WP: Adam Miller (1-1) 9 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K.
LP: Justin James (1-2) 6 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 7 BB, 6 K.
Top hitters: Ave Maria -- Gabe Loweree 2 for 4. USCB -- Spencer Jackson 1 for 4, 2 RBIs; Gabe Torres 1 for 3, RBI; David O'Neil 1 for 3, RBI.