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March 22, 2011

Tanner Addresses Hot Topics

With five games in the next six days, three against the No. 1 team in the country, South Carolina is entering one of their most important stretches of the 2011 season. USC baseball coach Ray Tanner spoke with 107.5 FM The Game late Monday afternoon concerning a number of important topics affecting the Gamecocks.

STEVEN NEFF: Entering the weekend series against Georgia, USC was searching for starting pitchers to fill the voids on Saturday and Sunday. But Neff might have nailed down the Saturday job with a sparkling outing in USC's 2-1 comeback victory. Neff yielded only one run and three hits in 7.0 innings, facing just four batters over the minimum. He had four strikeouts, so the Georgia hitters made contact, but they did little with it.

"I like what he did," Tanner said. "He was very impressive. He was commanding. He had good stuff. He didn't strike out a lot of people, but he got some bad swings in there. He's a very talented and athletic young kid. He's capable of getting on a roll for us. The challenges will get more difficult as we go. He's done a good job for us to be where he is right now. I hope he'll have another great outing next weekend."

SUNDAY STARTER: When he takes the mound Tuesday night against College of Charleston, sophomore Colby Holmes could be auditioning for the Sunday starter role. Holmes was fantastic against Wofford last week, allowing two runs on one hit in 5.1 innings. Will he have a similar outing Tuesday when he faces a team that relies heavily on the long ball?

"If he has a quality start, he could get some play for the weekend as well," Tanner said. "We're kind of searching. Webb had his shot. Westmoreland has had a couple of turns. We have to try to find somebody to nail that thing down. I'm not opposed to Bryan Harper becoming part of the conversation. He's been pretty successful in his role. I think we can expand on that a little bit if we want to. Matt Price is not completely out of the equation either."

Tanner isn't ready to cast Westmoreland aside considering his enormous talent. He allowed only one run on four hits to Clemson on March 8 in Greenville, so he's proven he can pitch in pressure situation.

"Westmoreland gave us a tremendous start against Clemson at Fluor Field and gave us a chance to win," Tanner said. "He's not a guy you just toss out there to give him a chance. He's proven he can do it. Consistency has been an issue."

Tanner emphasized the lack of a proven starter on Sunday hasn't caused him to lose much sleep or given him gray hairs or raised his blood pressure.

"I don't worry about it as much as maybe a lot of people think I do," Tanner said. "We'll go into it (the Florida series) with Roth and Neff right now and see how it shakes out. We'll have to see where we are and how the bullpen is used and how the matchups are. We'll have two or three guys with fresh arms that we'll put out there. We feel like we have some guys, but it just hasn't been written out the way you'd like for it to be."

PETER MOONEY: Shortstop Peter Mooney arrived at USC with the reputation of being a stellar with the glove, but he's struggled with eight errors in 18 games and is saddled with a fielding percentage of .901. At this point, how much of it is mental and how much is physical? Tanner believes the former has a large role in his fielding troubles.

"The guys at this age press at times regardless of the sport," Tanner said. "They try to do too much, they worry about it and beat themselves up a little bit. That makes it even harder. His offensive woes early on might have carried over. He lost a little confidence, but after Friday night's game we talked. It was good. He was in a much better place on Saturday and Sunday emotionally and ended up getting a few hits. I think he will be fine."

THE FLORIDA SERIES: About 12 hours following the conclusion of the Rhode Island game Wednesday night, USC will board a bus and head to Gainesville, Fla. for a three-game showdown series with top-ranked Florida. After sweeping LSU in Baton Rouge, it's difficult to argue the Gators are not currently the best college baseball team in the land.

Florida has the top staff ERA in the SEC at 2.29, while ranking third in team hitting with a .315 batting average.

"They're loaded and they deserve to be number one," Tanner said. "Of course, there are other good teams around the country, but they have all the ingredients. They pitch, they play defense, they've got guys in the middle and for the latter part of the game. They just plug guys in because they have so many of them. They're really, really good."

What is the secret to beating Florida? Probably do what Georgia Southern did in their 7-0 victory over UF - play a perfect game.

"You hope your team plays a really great game and they're not at their best," Tanner said. "Certainly, they're imposing. We're looking forward to that challenge. But we have 18 tough innings ahead of us and hopefully we'll play well and feel good about ourselves and where we are."

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