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April 12, 2011NO. 3 SOUTH CAROLINA (26-5) at THE CITADEL (12-20)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Joe Riley Park, Charleston
Tickets: Available at the box office
Probable starting pitchers: South Carolina -- LHP Steven Neff (2-0, 2.49 ERA). The Citadel - TBA
Notes: South Carolina leads the overall series 121-46-1 and has won the last five, including a 6-4 victory in Columbia on March 30. The Gamecocks are coming off a sweep of Tennessee and have won nine straight, while The Citadel is coming off a series win over College of Charleston. USC had an extra day of rest following the Tennessee series, which gave the team Sunday off. With three saves over the weekend and 10 for the year, Gamecocks closer Matt Price is in a tie for fifth-place on the career saves chart. He is tied with Chad Blackwell, who had all 20 of his in 2004. USC has had back-to-back SEC honorees, with Colby Holmes being named Pitcher of the Week for the Tennessee series and Forrest Koumas a co-freshman of the week after Kentucky.
Next up: USC hosts No. 1 Vanderbilt in the first of a three-game series at 7 p.m. on Friday.
These guys again.
South Carolina continues a four-game road trip tonight when it travels to The Citadel for its usual annual game at Joe Riley Park. It's usually a back-and-forth affair when the Gamecocks and Bulldogs get together and tonight should be no different.
The last time the two teams met, on March 30 in Columbia, USC won 6-4 after trailing 4-0. Christian Walker drove in four of the six runs and Matt Price recorded his sixth save to put another thriller into the annals of the longtime series.
It also featured a to-do between center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and The Citadel bench jockeys, with a good staring match between the two as Bradley Jr. slid home, popped up and hollered at the dugout with both arms outstretched. Neither Bradley Jr. nor coach Ray Tanner said exactly what transpired to cause the reaction, but Bradley Jr. stuck on the side of it being a big in-state rivalry.
"It's an in-state rivalry," Bradley Jr. said then. "We want to defend our home."
The Bulldogs (12-20) no doubt want to do the same tonight, especially as the red-hot Gamecocks (26-5) are coming in eyeing a tremendous national-spotlight this weekend - hosting No. 1 Vanderbilt in a three-game series.
Tonight comes first. As has been the story for the past three weeks, USC comes into the game looking at some potential lineup changes.
Associate head coach Chad Holbrook said on his Monday radio program that the team's second-leading hitter, third baseman Adrian Morales, has been fighting through a sprained ligament in his wrist in order to play. It may be that Morales sits out tonight to save him for Vanderbilt, although Morales' reputation is that short of losing a limb, no injury is enough to keep him from playing.
Right fielder Adam Matthews played designated hitter for two games against the Volunteers while his tender left hamstring continues to heal. It's probable that he could DH again tonight, but an eye will also be kept on keeping him ready for the weekend.
After not pitching since March 19, left-hander Steven Neff is projected to return to the mound tonight. Neff, out for a while with lingering shoulder and bicep tenderness, could have pitched against Tennessee but the Saturday game, a 2-1 decision, was so close and starter Forrest Koumas went so long that his opportunity vanished. He gets one tonight, although it will probably be a very short stint, to face live action and see if he can get back in business.
A good performance by Neff would go a long way toward answering the question of starting pitching stability. If he resumes the status he had before the injury, it would give the Gamecocks another option if any of the elevated weekend starters - Colby Holmes and Koumas, each recently honored by the SEC for their performances - begin to lose their steam. It would also give USC a solid midweek option - Adam Westmoreland is struggling mightily and Patrick Sullivan has one solid start to his credit, but not much else.
USC continues to find answers to whatever questions it's facing these days. If any more pop up tonight, the Gamecocks are a heavy favorite to answer those as well.
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