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February 9, 2012

Dantzler faces tough task replacing Morales

Adrian Morales was never the best player on South Carolina during his two seasons as the starting third baseman for the two-time defending national champion Gamecocks.

Last season, he hit .281 with three homers and 40 RBI in 68 games. Defensively, he committed 11 errors and compiled a fielding percentage of .938. Good, but not great.

Based on his performances over the first two scrimmage weekends, junior-college transfer LB Dantzler appears capable of bettering Morales' statistics offensively and defensively.

But there is one category Dantzler has a long ways to go in which to match Morales - leadership.

The verbal exchanges in the dugout between coach Ray Tanner and Morales during games are legendary.

"From day one, Morales was the consummate and ultimate team-first guy," Tanner told 107.5 FM The Game on Wednesday. "All he wanted to do was win. Anything that affected that, he was going to deal with it. He and I had some exchanges. We're going to miss him and the impact he had. He was a leader and he wanted to win for the University of South Carolina more than anybody."

Dantzler was a 2011 NJCAA honorable mention All-American at State College of Florida (Manatee-Sarasota) and a first-team FCSAA performer. He batted .415 (88-for-212) with 50 RBIs last season for SCFMS, finishing third in the FCSAA batting race.

In 2010, Dantzler was the MVP of the Florida Collegiate Summer League after leading SCFMS to the NJCAA World Series.

"LB Dantzler is probably better in all facets of the game than Adrian Morales," Tanner acknowledged. "However, Adrian excelled at the intangibles. He was a great leader. We had a lot of fun."

How much respect does Tanner have for Morales? He offered him a position on his coaching staff last July soon after USC had captured its second straight College World Series title in Omaha.

Morales, though, is set to play minor league baseball in the Kansas City Royals system in 2012 after being drafted in the 49th round (1,476th player overall) of last June's draft.

"I told Adrian as soon as our season ended last year that he needed to decline his chance to play professionally and come back next fall as a coach for me," Tanner said. "He said, 'You can't be serious, I'm going to play in the big leagues.' He gave me the whole spiel. But I told him to start immediately because he could be a great coach right now. That's how much respect I have for him."

Dantzler is one three new infielders for the Gamecocks. Shortstop will be manned by freshman Joey Pankake, while the top candidate for second base continues to be JUCO transfer Chase Vergason, although freshmen TJ Costen and Connor Bright are battling hard for the spot.

"Our three new guys in the infield are all good players," Tanner said. "But they haven't played (a game) yet. And they're replacing guys who played at the highest level. We're going to have to prove we can be a capable infield when the bell rings next weekend. Hopefully, the young players breaking into the lineup will play well right off the bat. If they don't, our older guys will pick them up and take care of them. Let's hope they come out of the blocks in a good way."

USC will scrimmage three more times this weekend, starting Friday and continuing Saturday and Sunday. Times for the scrimmages have not been announced.

The 2012 season opener is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Feb. 17 against VMI at Carolina Stadium. Only a few standing-room-only tickets remain for the first of 56 regular-season games.

The Gamecocks also face Elon (Feb. 24-26), rival Clemson (March 2-4) and Princeton (March 9-11) in weekend series before starting conference play on March 16-18 at Kentucky.

"A lot of people will be gunning for us, but they have before," Tanner said. "That's part of it. We're not going to have any extra pressure. We feel like our history will help us in certain situations because of our tradition. We're going to go out and try to have fun playing. I've learned to relax a little bit more with my team. Our guys have had a lot of fun, but they've worked very hard too. They take away the stress and anxiety."

The 2012 team captains are Michael Roth, Adam Matthews and Matt Price. Along with Christian Walker and Evan Marzilli, those five players "will run this team," Tanner said.

"I've had a lot of players over the years and none have gotten as much respect as Michael Roth," Tanner said. "When he speaks, they're going to listen. He knows the importance of what we do on a daily basis. We're still going to have great leadership."

Along with the 2010 team, Tanner was honored Wednesday at the State House and given the USC flag that flew over the capitol after the Gamecocks won their second straight national title.

"It was a very special ceremony," Tanner said. "It was great event for us. We're very appreciative. It was fun to visit with the legislators and hang out a little bit and share a few stories. We took a lot of pictures."

Just because SIGNING DAY is over doesn't mean our coverage of the
big day stops. We have more analysis of USC's 2012 signing class, plus
all of our normal content on GamecockCentral.com. Don't miss a thing
with our 7-day FREE TRIAL.

D. McCallum

South Carolina NEWS


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