Baseball Opens 2013 Season Friday Hosting Liberty
Feb. 14, 2013
South Carolina will open the 2013 season on Friday beginning a three-game series vs. Liberty at Carolina Stadium. Opening Day is sold out with standing room only tickets still available for Saturday and Sunday's contests as the Gamecocks begin the Chad Holbrook era. The University of South Carolina will honor Ray Tanner on Opening Day as several pre-game festivities are planned at Carolina Stadium before the South Carolina and Liberty baseball game on Friday. Fans are advised to be in the ballpark early as several ceremonies are planned to begin at 2:35 p.m. First pitch will officially start at 3:07 p.m.
Under the direction of Tanner, South Carolina's postseason success from 2010-2012 is arguably the greatest run in collegiate baseball history. In the three-year span, the Gamecocks established NCAA records with 22 consecutive postseason wins and 12 consecutive wins in the College World Series. The Gamecocks won the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship in 2010 and 2011 with a national runner-up finish in 2012. South Carolina's 30-4 (.882) record from 2010-2012 in the NCAA Tournament is the fifth best three-year postseason record in NCAA history.
Tanner went 738-316, his winning percentage for the Gamecocks was .700, the second highest winning percentage for a coach in Southeastern Conference history.
Eight of the last 12 games at Carolina Stadium have been sellouts including six of the last seven contests. Live video broadcast is available on the All Access Channel at GamecocksOnline.com and live radio broadcast on the Gamecock Radio Network, including flagship station 107.5 FM "The Game," in Columbia.
PROBABLE PITCHING ROTATION
Date - Winner - Score - Site
GAMECOCKS IN THE RANKINGS
PRESEASON ALL-AMERICA HONORS
Greiner returns after earning Freshman All-America honors last season by Collegiate Baseball. He was a SEC All-Freshman selection and hit six homers with 32 RBI with 13 doubles as well.
Webb, who garnered second-team Preseason All-America honors earlier in the month from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, went 6-1 with a 1.56 ERA last year in 39 relief appearances.
Montgomery and Holmes both were starters last season. Montgomery went 6-1 with a 3.62 ERA in 74.2 innings with Holmes going 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 79.2 innings. Montgomery also earned Freshman All-America honors last year.
SOME MORE RECOGNITION
Sophomore shortstop Joey Pankake was rated the No. 9 best prospect in the SEC for the 2014 Draft as well as the No. 35 sophomore in the country. Pankake was also selected as the infielder with the Best Arm in the SEC.
Sophomore catcher Grayson Greiner was right behind Pankake and rated the No. 10 best prospect in the SEC for the 2014 draft as well as the No. 44 best sophomore. Greiner was also recognized as the catcher with the Best Arm in the SEC.
Freshman infielder Max Schrock is rated the No. 6 best newcomer in the SEC and the No. 19 best freshman in college baseball with sophomore outfielder Tanner English named as the Fastest Runner in the SEC and the No. 48 best sophomore in the nation.
Several Gamecock seniors are recognized with left-hander Tyler Webb rated the No. 12 best senior, infielder LB Dantzler the No. 30 best senior and right-handed pitcher Colby Holmes the No. 47 best senior in the nation.
OH CAPTAIN - MY CAPTAIN
CAROLINA BASEBALL RETURNING LEADERS
PITCHING (minimum 40 IP)
A LOOK CLOSER
Head coach Chad Holbrook begins his first year penciling in the lineup card and he and the Gamecocks are eager to follow the great tradition that has been passed on from the likes of Richardson, Raines and Tanner. He also has a talented team coming back with a preseason ranking as high as No. 5 in the country.
"When you watch our team, I think you are going to see a lot more similarities than differences," said Coach Holbrook. "Coach Tanner's fingerprints will be all over our program. He has been terrific in helping me with this transition. It has been a whirlwind and it has been a lot of fun."
A closer look at the team reveals that the elements and components from years past are similar to the present. The 2013 team will have the same expectations and the same vision that has always encompassed the South Carolina baseball program.
"I don't talk to our team about Omaha and the pressure of getting back to the College World Series," said Holbrook. "I talk about, `Hey let's be good today.'
The attitudes and beliefs to be the best that you can be are instilled every day when the team goes to work at Carolina Stadium. The expectations do not change at the University of South Carolina, nor does the focus of the student-athletes and the staff.
"February 15 will be here before we can blink," said Coach Holbrook "We are excited about our team. (Our players) have worked extremely hard. They have done things the right way and have worked awfully hard at the game. I feel good about our team. We have some players that have played for a national championship. We have some players that have won a national championship. We like our experience and leadership and we like the athleticism we can put out on the field."
One of the top hitters on the team last year, LB Dantzler, returns for his senior season. Last year, Dantzler was the team's primary cleanup hitter and he figures to be back in the middle of batting order. Dantzler hit .262 with 10 homers and 48 RBI to go along with 15 doubles and a .433 slugging percentage. One change for Dantzler though is his position. After being one only two Gamecocks to start all 69 games at the same position, Dantzler has moved over to first base after a season at third. Though he may go back to third base from time to time, the plans are for Dantzler to be at first base for a majority of the season.
Moving over to third base is another senior, Chase Vergason. After 43 starts at second base a year ago, Vergason has made the move over to the hot corner.
Also back in the infield is sophomore shortstop Joey Pankake. Pankake started 62 games and made the SEC All-Freshman Team. Pankake should also hit in the heart of the order and be among the run producers for 2013.
"We need Joey to have a big year," said Holbrook. "He can be an All-America type player. He played terrific defense for us down the stretch when we needed him. He's the quarterback on the field playing (shortstop). We expect him to be a leader on our team."
A new face will be part of the double play combination as freshman Max Schrock takes over duties at second base. One of the top prep hitters in the country the past few seasons, Schrock is expected to make an immediate impact at the plate for the Gamecocks. He was one of the team's leading hitters in fall scrimmages.
"I think (Max) is really good," stated Holbrook. "He will probably be in the three hole on Opening Day and that's a heck of a compliment for a freshman. I don't look at Max as a freshman. Yes, he is a freshman in his first year in college but he has played a lot of baseball. He is physically strong, he is mature and he has had a lot of at bats in AAU ball. His experience is way beyond a normal freshman (player)."
Two other freshmen infielders are also competing for time. George Iskenderian was one of the top prep players in New Jersey last year and has made positive strides at third base. DC Arendas has played second, shortstop and third base and his defense and left-handed bat continue to improve.
Schrock shared Position Player of the Fall honors with junior college transfer Graham Saiko, another newcomer. Saiko also has positioned himself near the top of the lineup and may start in left field. He can also play on the left side of the infield as well.
"Saiko is a good offensive player," said Holbrook. "He has found his home in the outfield. He moves the ball. He looks like a prototype number two hitter in the lineup."
Moving over from left field to center is sophomore Tanner English. One of the fastest players in the country, English was the team's second-best hitter last year at a .298 clip. He hopes to improve on that average as well as his .341 on-base percentage. A new addition to English's repertoire is his move to switch-hitting. Coach Holbrook is hopeful that it will increase his advantage when batting.
"I thought that switch-hitting would be something that would help Tanner," said Holbrook. "After watching him this fall, I don't think there is any doubt that it is the right move for him and the right move for our team. He doesn't have to be a great left-handed hitter to cause havoc with how fast he is. If he can put the ball on the ground more, he is going to increase his on-base percentage and increase his opportunities to steal bases, which is what we want him to do."
Along with great speed, English is also blessed with a tremendous arm. Both two important tools to have, he is expected to continue the great lineage of center fielders that have roamed the outfield.
Joining Saiko and English in the outfield is sophomore TJ Costen. A five-tool player, Costen is looking to develop into a routine starter in one of the corner outfield spots.
"TJ is one of our better athletes," said Holbrook. "He is an awesome talent. I think he can have a real good year for us."
Several other players are also looking to be a factor in the outfield. Sean Sullivan executed several times at the plate last year with the game on the line. He is back for his senior season. Sophomore Connor Bright played in 32 games with 22 starts a year ago including action in the postseason. He may also be available in left field or in an infield spot. Freshmen Ahmad Christian and Shon Carson also are fighting for playing time after spending the fall with the Gamecocks' football team. Both players were drafted out of high school in baseball and want to make an impact on the diamond.
"Ahmad and Shon bring our team a spark," said Holbrook.
Holbrook has been encouraged by Christian's versatility. He may be a candidate at third base and second base as well as any of the outfield positions. Carson has spent time in the spring at all outfield spots as well.
Last season, Greiner earned Freshman All-America honors with 47 starts behind the dish in his first collegiate season. Rosenberg contributed as well with 22 starts and made a tremendous impact in the postseason as he started the first six games of the postseason with Greiner down with a knee injury. Both catchers are dynamic behind the plate and are strengths defensively with their ability to receive and catch and throw down to second base.
Holbrook has a positive outlook in the direction of the offensive game plan for the 2013 season. Many intangibles seem to be evident with this year's group of position players. Power, speed, awareness and depth will all factor into his decisions when the Gamecocks go to work at the plate.
"I think it is a group that is a little bit more physically strong than we were last year," indicated Holbrook. "We've always been aggressive (on offense)." Coach Tanner was an aggressive coach. I think I'm an aggressive coach. We have some guys that can run. I think you are going to see some guys try to swipe some bases. I'm going to try to utilize the strengths that some of our guys have."
Both pitchers came up big in the postseason last year. Montgomery went 2-0 in a pair of starts with a win vs. Clemson that clinched the NCAA Regional and a victory vs. Arkansas that kept the Gamecocks alive in an elimination game in Omaha. Montgomery went on to compile a 6-1 record to earn Freshman All-America honors.
"Jordan has had a great offseason. He has gotten stronger, his velocity is up. Last year he pitched in two of our biggest games. He is never in awe of the situation. He's a potential Friday night guy. We know when we put Jordan out there we have a chance to win the game. He's unflappable. He's one of those lefties that knows how to pitch. Jordan can beat anybody on any day, he is that good."
Holmes also posted a win in the postseason and finished the year 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA. Both Holmes and Montgomery are Preseason All-America selections as well.
"Colby is experienced and one of the leaders of our pitching staff," said Holmes. "He has been on the big stage, he has pitched in Omaha. We are expecting a great year out of him."
Also receiving Preseason All-America honors was senior left-hander Tyler Webb. One of the top relief arms in the country, Webb made a team-high 39 appearances last year and put together a 6-1 record to go along with an impeccable 1.56 ERA in 57.2 innings. Opponents hit only .211 against him. Webb is currently expected to be in the closer role on the first day.
Southpaws Nolan Belcher (4-2, 2.12 ERA) and Adam Westmoreland (2-1, 2.86 ERA), as well as senior right-hander Patrick Sullivan (0-0, 3.52 ERA), junior right-hander Forrest Koumas (2-3, 4.82 ERA) and sophomore righties Evan Beal (4-4, 3.81 ERA) and Joel Seddon (2-0, 2.76 ERA), all started at least one game as well last year. They are each competing for time as a starter or for a role in the bullpen. Also in the mix for innings is freshman left-hander Jack Wynkoop, who was one of the top pitching prospects last year out of the state of Virginia.
"There is some competition for the Sunday spot," said Holbrook. We feel very good about Jack Wynkoop. He had a great fall and is a very talented (pitcher). Belcher is back to where he was pitching as a freshman. Patrick Sullivan has been very good. Forrest Koumas is back from injury. Joel Seddon we think is better than he was a year ago, he will get more opportunities. I think one of the strengths of our team is our pitching depth. We have a lot of work to do and some tough decisions that have to be made based on who we are going to put in specific roles."