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March 16, 2013
COLUMBIA, Mo. - Nolan Belcher doesn't like to walk batters.
Fifth-ranked South Carolina's senior tri-captain was at it again on Saturday, striking out six and walking none in 8 1-3 innings during a 2-0 USC win in the first game of a doubleheader. So dominant was Belcher's performance that no Missouri runner reached second base.
"Nolan Belcher was incredible," coach Chad Holbrook said.
Belcher was at a loss to explain why his absurd season totals are so skewed. After Saturday, Belcher had struck out 36 and walked just one, and that was against Liberty on opening weekend. He has pitched 32 1-3 straight innings without a walk, with only 14 three-ball counts during that span.
It was simple, Belcher said. He's not going to give a batter a free base. In a three-ball count, he throws it in the zone and lets them know that it's there, if they can hit it.
"I have a lot of confidence that I can throw a strike when I need to," Belcher said. "When I get three balls, I try to make a quality pitch. When it's 3-1, I just try to get back into the count. It doesn't really faze me too much."
His dominance, coupled with an injury to Jordan Montgomery, has given Holbrook a lot of reasons to think. He moved Belcher up a day in the rotation, and he responded with a shutout of Missouri. Could a similar move occur next week, when Arkansas comes to town?
"It's a thought to throw him on Friday," Holbrook said. "It's in our thoughts. I don't know if we'll throw him on Friday."
Evan Beal has also been grand in his two starts, so the 1-2 punch of Beal and Belcher seems to be a good starting point. Montgomery won't pitch against Arkansas and is doubtful to pitch against Texas A&M.
CUTTING THE CHEESE?: Colby Holmes had his third straight poor outing in Game 2 against Missouri, being lifted in the second inning and yielding three runs on three hits with three walks. Part of a combined no-hitter against Albany on Feb. 24, Holmes has been ripped by Clemson, Rider and Missouri in succession since.
"I couldn't throw strikes," Holmes said. "It's kind of hard to stay in a game when you can't throw strikes. I just couldn't find the zone in the game. I couldn't get the ball up, is what was wrong this week."
A senior, Holmes deserves some consideration to weather his struggles, but with Montgomery out and USC also down productive hitters, runs are getting hard to come by. Great pitching can trump that (USC won two games against Missouri but only scored six runs), and Holmes isn't great right now.
With Arkansas looming, Holbrook has a decision to make. The Gamecocks only have one midweek game this week, at The Citadel on Tuesday. Jack Wynkoop nor Curt Britt threw against Missouri, leaving them and Joel Seddon as options to start on Tuesday, and if all can get some work, perhaps one could be looked at as a Sunday starter against the Razorbacks.
Consideration also must be given to Holmes' recent record against Arkansas. His only two outings at the 2012 College World Series were against the Hogs, and they battered him for a combined seven hits, four runs and two walks in 5 2-3 innings. A lot of the same batters returned to Arkansas this year.
"We've just got to try to pick our spots to get him going," Holbrook said. "I don't know right now if it's going to be on the weekend, starting. We've got to get him in a position to get ironed out. Right now, he's scuffling. He certainly can't keep pitching the way he's pitching and pitch on the weekend in the SEC."
TAKING HIS TIME: Holbrook said after Friday's game that he thought that Tanner English would play on Saturday, but the sophomore missed his ninth straight game. Holbrook said that English didn't feel healthy enough to play on Saturday, and he was hopeful that he would be able to go on Tuesday.
Graham Saiko, who injured his left wrist on Friday, did not play and will be re-evaluated on Monday. Holbrook said on Friday that he hoped it was just a sprain.
In the two outfielders' absence, Connor Bright started in left, Shon Carson started in center and TJ Costen was in right for Game 1. In Game 2, Carson and Bright stayed in the same positions but Sean Sullivan started in right, after Costen struck out three times in Game 1.
Max Schrock batted leadoff in Saiko's place in each game.
ONE-UPPED: Holbrook is only 20 games into his head coaching career but he already has two milestones that Ray Tanner never had. One, he got a no-hitter in one win (a combined no-hitter), and two, he won his first SEC series.
Tanner lost his first SEC series to Auburn while predecessor June Raines lost his first one to LSU. Holbrook became the first USC coach to win his first SEC series.
THIRD TIME'S THE CHARM?: Saturday was the third doubleheader that USC has played this season. The year is only 20 games old.
The Gamecocks had to play two against Liberty on Feb. 17 and two against Albany on Feb. 24.
WE GOT SPIRIT, YES WE DO: Missouri brought around 16 members of its band to the game. If watching 18 innings in 40-degree weather was miserable, toting a saxophone the whole time must have been excruciating.
BLANKS BROTHERS: Belcher is also riding a 26 1-3-inning scoreless streak. Closer Tyler Webb has yet to give up a run in 11 1-3 innings this season.
IMPROVING: USC won the first SEC series of the season to avoid a two-year losing streak in that regard. The Gamecocks are now 10-12 all-time in their first SEC series of the year.
Team SEC Overall
Vanderbilt 2-0 18-2
South Carolina 2-1 17-3
Florida 1-1 9-11
Kentucky 1-1 15-3
Tennessee 1-1 10-8
Missouri 1-2 6-9
Georgia 0-2 8-10
LSU 2-0 18-1
Texas A&M 2-0 13-7
Alabama 1-1 10-9
Arkansas 1-1 14-6
Ole Miss 1-1 19-2
Auburn 0-2 13-5
Mississippi State 0-2 18-5
South Carolina 2, Missouri 0
Missouri 4, South Carolina 0
Vanderbilt 8, Auburn 1
Texas A&M 2, Georgia 1 (10)
Kentucky 11, Florida 5
LSU 7, Mississippi State 3
Arkansas 10, Ole Miss 1
Tennessee 7, Alabama 6
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