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March 10, 2013
It's safe to say that Joey Pankake is on fire.
On Sunday in No. 6 South Carolina's 1-0 win over Rider, the sophomore shortstop was the difference in the game, as his moon-shot home run to left field that sailed over the wall, over the bullpen and onto the concourse was the game's only run.
The homer was Pankake's fourth of the year and fourth in the past five games. The power surge is especially surprising considering he only hit two home runs in all of 2012 (239 at-bats) meaning in 15 games this year he's already more than doubled his total of a season ago, when he appeared in 66 games. Last year, Pankake also hit his two home runs early in the season, with his final home run coming on April 4 against College of Charleston.
"I'd like to say it's a lot of skill, but some of it's a little bit of luck," Pankake said. "Some people have asked me where I keep the horseshoe. I'm trying to shorten up, hit the ball on the barrel a lot more, and it's working right now."
One person not surprised by Pankake's strength so far is coach Chad Holbrook.
"He's stronger, he's more physical," Holbrook said. "He's worked really, really hard in the weight room. He's one of our strongest players as far as throwing up weights and how much he can throw up and what he does in the weight room. He's very diligent in there.
"He works extremely hard and takes great pride in his weight work. He's a lot stronger than he was a year ago. I think that's the main reason for his numbers. I think that's the main reason for it. The ball jumps off his bat a lot more."
ROTATION UNSETTLED: For perhaps the first time in USC's SEC history, the Gamecocks look ahead to a conference-opening series with no set Friday starter.
With Jordan Montgomery still on the mend through at least the Arkansas series, unless he heals more quickly than anticipated, and Colby Holmes struggling, there is no set starter for Friday, according to Holbrook.
While Nolan Belcher (3-1) made a case for himself with a scoreless start and a ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio of 30 to 1, the fact that he threw so long on Sunday made him unavailable for Friday.
"That would be the first time in the history of the Southeastern Conference that we go 'Friday TBA'," Holbrook joked. "I don't know. We can't move Nolan up to Friday. You can't move him up two days.
"In a perfect world, what we wanted to do was score some runs early today and get (Belcher) out. It didn't happen, so we had to try to win the game. He's coming off a complete game against Clemson, and we were worried about the pitch count today. We didn't want him to go over 100 today, and I see where he threw 103."
Holbrook said the best-case scenario would be to throw Belcher on Saturday.
"I don't know what we're going to do Friday and Sunday right now," Holbrook said. "I don't know. Evan Beal is probably going to be in the mix for Friday, as is Colby. We'll have to watch Colby this week and make sure his bullpens are crisp, and we like the way he's throwing, as far as his practice and bullpens.
"I have confidence Colby will bounce back from his recent struggles. He's not a happy camper right now. He'll be all right."
Another candidate coming off a strong performance is freshman left-hander Jack Wynkoop. With midweek games against USC Upstate (Tuesday) and Davidson (Wednesday), Holbrook said Wthat ynkoop likely will start Tuesday on a pre-determined pitch count so as to be available for the weekend.
HOW'D THAT HAPPEN?: USC allowed 11 hits but no runs against Rider on Sunday. The 11 hits were the second-most this season; the Gamecocks allowed 12 against Ball State earlier in the week.
Additionally, Rider had two more hits taken away in the sixth inning, one on a blown call that would have been a double down the left-field line, and another on a wild throw from Pankake that LB Dantzler had to jump up for and came off the bag. The umpire ruled he landed in time for the out, but the call likely went the wrong way.
"We gave up 11 hits today and didn't give up a run," Holbrook said. "We made pitches when we had to and we made defensive plays when we had to."
For the game, Rider left 12 men on base and was 0-for-2 with the bases loaded.
STREAK OVER: Dantzler's team-leading 11-game hitting streak came to an end against Rider on Sunday. Facing strong starting pitching from the Broncs' Mike Murphy, Dantzler was 0-for-3 with a strikeout.
ONE-RUN GAMES: With Sunday's 1-0 win, USC improved to 3-1 in one-run games. In the opening weekend, the Gamecocks won two (4-3 and 8-7) and lost one.
SHUTOUTS GROWING: Sunday's shutout was USC's fourth of the season and fourth in its last six games, dating to a 6-0 win over Clemson on March 1.
WEBB SCARE: So far this season, closer Tyler Webb has been masterful at getting out of jams, and he did so again in the eighth inning when he came in with no outs and a runner on first before allowing a hit, then a clearing-the-ledger sacrifice, strikeout and fly-out.
Webb must not be comfortable when not in danger, however, because in the ninth inning he created a nice little jam of his own to wiggle out of, loading the bases before finally inducing a gently fly-out to center to end the game.
"Maybe they saw him for the second time, it wasn't as new, it wasn't under the lights," Holbrook said. "I think maybe his velocity was down a tick. Maybe.
"They had one seeing-eye dog right there through the four-hole there on a change-up, a good pitch, and give credit to them hitting the ball the other way. He made some good pitches.
"But we had to extend him two days. When you throw 38 pitches on Friday night and come back and have to throw 40 today, that's a workhorse. He's been phenomenal."
AROUND THE SEC
South Carolina 1, Rider 0
Ole Miss 9, Lipscomb 8
Auburn 6, Brown 3
LSU 7, Washington 5
Kentucky 3, Michigan State 1
Louisville 8, Alabama 7
Indiana 7, Florida 4
Central Arkansas 7, Mississippi State 3
Cal State Fullerton 7, Texas A&M 6
Liberty 11, Georgia 8
San Francisco at Missouri (canceled)
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