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May 10, 2011

USC Hosts Presbyterian After Short Turnaround

PRESBYTERIAN (20-28) at NO. 4 SOUTH CAROLINA (37-10)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Carolina Stadium, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
TV: None
Probable starting pitchers: Presbyterian -- RHP Bud Jeter (5-5, 5.83 ERA). South Carolina -- RHP Patrick Sullivan (1-0, 1.46)
Notes: South Carolina leads the overall series 41-19. ... The Gamecocks are coming off their first series loss of the year, after having won 11 straight this season. ... Pitcher Michael Roth has been named one of 25 quarterfinalists for National Pitcher of the Year. ... Robert Beary hit .455 in the Ole Miss series and is now batting .298 for the season. ... The Gamecocks are hoping for a long stint from Sullivan, as their pitching needs to be preserved. Normal midweek starter Adam Westmoreland threw on Sunday, although it was only 23 pitches, but an extra game this week provides nine more innings of needing a hurler. ... DeSean Anderson is near 100 percent recovered from his hamstring pull, giving the Gamecocks another option in the outfield or at designated hitter. ... DH Steven Neff had two doubles on Sunday as he seemed to settle further into the role. ... Christian Walker had reached base in 32 straight games before seeing the streak snapped on Sunday.
Next up: USC hosts Charleston Southern at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.


South Carolina has responded well, this season and in past seasons, to adversity. The Gamecocks have not had a three-game losing streak since April 2009.

They don't plan to match it now.

"Obviously, we didn't want to lose this game," Brady Thomas said after Sunday's 7-6 series finale loss to Ole Miss. "It was a tough game for us. We'll bounce back fine. We'll be OK."

The Gamecocks returned from Oxford knowing their situation has changed. Ranked No. 1 in two of the five major baseball polls last week, USC now has a high ranking of No. 2 (PerfectGameUSA) and a mean between No. 3 and No. 4. All alone in first place in the SEC on Friday, the Gamecocks slipped into a tie for second with Florida while each looks one game above at Vanderbilt with six games to play.

The SEC race resumes this weekend. USC (37-10) will try to heal its wounds by taking on a rare week with two midweek games, the last two-game non-conference stretch of the season.

Presbyterian (20-28) visits tonight while Charleston Southern comes to Columbia on Wednesday. It's a chance for the Gamecocks to begin remembering the focus and determination for playing five games in six days, a crucial part of surviving and advancing in the postseason.

Patrick Sullivan will take the mound tonight against the Blue Hose, hoping to pitch several innings and preserve the Gamecocks' relievers for the rest of the week. USC extended bullpen stalwarts John Taylor and Matt Price on Sunday and also used Adam Westmoreland, the midweek starter in each of the past two weeks, for 23 pitches.

With coach Ray Tanner saying he wants to re-evaluate the final two weekend pitching roles, tonight and Wednesday could be a live audition for several pitchers not named Michael Roth. One who may also be saved for the weekend, but perhaps used in another role, could be left-hander Steven Neff.

Neff could be one of the hurlers who Tanner was thinking of when he mentioned the potential rotation changes, as the left-hander has been more effective this year than in his entire career. But he is also improving at the plate, rising into his role at designated hitter with two doubles on Sunday. He raised his average to .176 with just two hits, after beginning the game under .100.

"More at-bats, more time I see the ball," Neff said, explaining his improvement. "Get out there and see the ball more."

Neff said laying off live pitching won't affect his ability to return to the mound, crediting his practice time during the week. With other DH candidates (Adam Matthews, DeSean Anderson) hobbled by hamstring pulls and the Gamecocks wanting to keep giving Neff at-bats while he's on a hot streak, it's likely Neff resumes the role tonight while perhaps preparing for a relief role on Wednesday or starting role this weekend.

"Wherever coach wants me, either pitching or hitting, I need to get better at both," Neff said.

The Gamecocks have a chance to begin answering questions and addressing concerns that popped up against Ole Miss. USC's pitching wasn't as sharp across the board as it has been, base-running snafus continue to haunt the Gamecocks and their hottest hitter, Christian Walker, noticeably cooled off.

Two chances to get better, before one of their historically toughest SEC teams to beat comes to town. Arkansas is one of only three teams in the league USC does not have a winning overall record against (Alabama and USC are tied with 24 wins each).

"We've been pretty good about handling losses," Neff said. "Just got to put this behind us, focus on next weekend."

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