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February 21, 2013
The schedule says Albany, but the most formidable foe for South Carolina throughout this weekend's three-game non-conference series at Carolina Stadium could be Mother Nature herself.
Similar to last weekend when USC was forced by inclement weather to face Liberty in a doubleheader on Sunday, chilly and soggy late February conditions in the Midlands will probably wreak havoc over the next couple of days.
Game 1 of the series against the Great Danes is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Friday. However, forecasts late Thursday call for an 80 percent chance of rain and temperatures in the high 40s when the first pitch is scheduled to be thrown at Carolina Stadium.
Rain is supposed to begin falling early Friday morning in Columbia and continue for most of the day, until the early evening hours.
Saturday's forecast call is only slightly better - a 70 percent chance of rain in the early afternoon with clearing skies later in the day, swelling the odds that the 1:30 p.m. contest could be pushed back into the late afternoon or early evening.
"If we have to bump the Saturday game and move it back to the night time, we will," USC coach Chad Holbrook said on Thursday. "The temperatures are in our favor and that's a good thing. If we get washed out Friday and can only play one on Saturday, we'll play two on Sunday."
Holbrook contended that the Gamecocks will wait until the right moment to start playing baseball, but vowed that all three games will be played even if another doubleheader is necessary.
"I know the weather is an issue for the next couple of days," Holbrook said. "But we're going to do our best to get three games in this weekend. We need to get three games in. We're going to be here a while. We're not going to call a game based on a forecast. We're going to wait it out. We have a great field that drains well with a great tarp and grounds crew."
The likelihood of a Sunday doubleheader when partly cloudy skies and warm temperatures in the upper 60s are predicted by meteorologists is increasing by the hour. If so, Holbrook maintained that both games will be nine-inning affairs, unlike last week, when the nightcap was just seven innings and USC lost by a run.
"If we get a rain-out, we'll look at playing a doubleheader the following day," Holbrook said. "And I doubt very seriously if we play a doubleheader, either game will be seven innings. I learned my lesson."
Whenever the series with Albany gets underway, USC will send left-hander Jordan Montgomery to the mound with senior right-hander Colby Holmes and senior left-hander Nolan Belcher set to throw in the second and third games of the series, respectively.
With a less formidable opponent in town, Holbrook would like to give playing time to some younger, less-experienced players such as Connor Bright, George Iskenderian and two-way freshman Curt Britt, who pitches and plays the infield. That trio combined for three at-bats last weekend.
"Connor Bright is the type of kid I love to have in the lineup," Holbrook said. "He didn't get the opportunities I wanted to give him last weekend. I'm going to try like crazy to get him in there some. George Iskenderian is a player I'm very high on. He's very talented and chomping at the bit to get in there. Curt Britt is one of our best hitters. There are a number of guys that deserve to play."
Except for reserve outfielder (and football player) Ahmad Christian, who is expected to miss a month of action due to a stress fracture in his back, the Gamecocks are "relatively healthy," Holbrook said.
Holbrook acknowledged that he doesn't know much about Albany other than "they've got some older guys back from last year's team that finished second in their conference to Stony Brook, and we all know what Stony Brook did in the postseason."
Most of Albany's roster consists of players from the state of New York. The Great Danes dropped two games to Canisius last weekend in Cary, N.C., by the combined score of 20-6.
Albany returns 20 players from a season ago, including eight starting position players, and added 10 newcomers to the mix. Albany was picked to finish fourth in the preseason America East coaches' poll after posting a 16-8 conference mark in 2012.
The leading hitter is shortstop Gordon Madej, an America East All-Rookie Team selection in 2012 that batted .444 (4-of-9) in the two games last weekend. The last time the Great Danes squared off with a ranked opponent was last year's season-opening series at Miami, when Albany fell to the Hurricanes by the scores of 15-4, 11-1 and 12-5.
Holbrook wants to see progress from his team in a number of areas, including the fundamentals of batting (.210 average in three games against Liberty) and fielding (five errors).
"We're going to have to be ready to play," Holbrook said. "I hope you'll see a lot of improvement from our team from last weekend to this weekend. Obviously, these games are very important to us.
"Anytime you don't play as well as you would like to play, there is concern. I thought we would be a little more consistent offensively than we were. We hit some balls hard with nothing to show for it. But I was disappointed with the way we played defense, particularly in the infield."
* Weather permitting, the games on Friday and Sunday will be broadcast on 107.5 FM Game, while Saturday's game will be on 1320 AM, because the USC men's basketball game at Georgia tips off at 2 p.m.
* Despite disappointing outings last weekend, Holbrook said he intends to get Joel Seddon and Forrest Koumas back on the mound this weekend. Britt didn't pitch last weekend.
* Holbrook said that freshman left-hander Jack Wynkoop is the probable starter for Tuesday's 4 p.m. home game against Furman.
* Because of the poor weather forecast for Friday, Holbrook said there was a brief discussion about starting the series on Thursday, but the schools decided against it.
* Holbrook said the decision to redshirt Ryan Ripken, son of legendary Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken Jr., was made collectively with the family in order to avoid wasting a year of his eligibility with minimal at-bats.
* The 1977 College World Series team will be awarded its rings on Saturday. Holbrook said "we're hopeful" that former major-leaguer Mookie Wilson will attend the ceremony.
Friday - LHP Jordan Montgomery (1-0) vs. RHP Kasciem Graham (RHP)
Saturday - RHP Colby Holmes (0-0) vs. RHP Derek Zielinski (0-1)
Sunday - LHP Nolan Belcher (0-1) vs. RHP Austin Chase (0-1)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
C - Grayson Greiner (.200) OR Dante Rosenberg (.250)
1B - LB Dantzler (.333)
2B - Max Schrock (.091)
3B - Chase Vergason (.250)
SS - Joey Pankake (.333)
LF - Graham Saiko (.300)
CF - Tanner English (.333)
RF - TJ Costen (.000)
DH - Erik Payne (.000)
NEXT FIVE GAMES
Friday vs. Albany, 3 p.m.
Saturday vs. Albany, 1:30 p.m.
Sunday vs. Albany, 1:30 p.m.
Tuesday vs. Furman, 4 p.m.
March 1 at Clemson, 6:30 p.m.
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