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February 13, 2012

Tanner wraps preseason practice

South Carolina finished its preseason scrimmages on Monday as the back-to-back national champions prepare for their season-opener on Friday. GamecockCentral.com's David Cloninger was there.

VIDEO: Ray Tanner

Ray Tanner looked about as he always does - affable, approachable and steady. No need to be jumping around, even if he may have been feeling some excitement.

As season-opening weeks go, it's pretty routine. Tanner isn't thinking about how it's a season-opening week for a back-to-back national champion.

He didn't allow himself to think about what could be in store while his South Carolina team was in the process of winning those two titles, so why would he think about it now?

"I'm happy we were able to get all of our work in," the Gamecocks' 16th-year coach said on Monday, as his squad finished its ninth and final scrimmage of the preseason. "Always want to be a little bit better than you are, but we had pretty good tempo today. I think they're ready to play."

Whether that comes true or not will be revealed on Friday, when VMI visits Carolina Stadium for a 3 p.m. first pitch that will begin the 2012 season. The No. 2 Gamecocks will embark on what they feel will be a successful season, and one that is carrying increasing expectations that began with hope - USC proved it could win another national title, so some are expecting instead of wishing that it will happen a third time.

Tanner will be asked about it many times this year, and will supply his stock answer that he can't afford to look too far ahead, nor does he want to. The season is long, with 30 of the 56 games coming against the best talent in the country, and it simply doesn't do to think what could be instead of what is - i.e., the next game.

But with a fall and a preseason in the books, now comes the process of making the final decisions. Who's on the team, who's not, who plays where and who plays how much.

Tanner has a lot of veteran experience back, particularly on the mound, but is filling holes in the infield. He feels he has the players necessary to do that, and will also send a freshman to start in the outfield.

"I'm going to start Tanner English," Tanner said, referring to the rookie speedster who has been solid with his fielding as his bat continues to come around. "I can't have that guy on the bench right now. He's sort of got to play himself out. There's so much ability there. He's going to be in the lineup Opening Day."

There's also the question of who bridges the gap between starting pitcher and closer, which was a one-man answer last year (John Taylor). Tanner has several young arms to choose from, some which will be given a shot at middle relief and some who may take the midweek pitching role.

"It's good to have some choices," Tanner said. "I'm not sure I have the answers right now, hopefully coach (Jerry) Meyers does. There's a lot of guys I like, and as I watch them, I think where they're going to fit. That's a challenge for us. We do have some capable people but we've got to get them in the right spots."


Final cutdown day is Thursday. The final roster will have to be turned into the SEC office then so everything is ship-shape by 3 p.m. on Friday (Opening Day). USC has to get to a roster limit of 34, after scholarship player Mikal Hill transferred after fall practice. The current roster stands at 39 players.

Josh Knab isn't eligible to play this year after transferring, so the number drops to 38. Walk-on Robert DeCosmo is redshirting after having arm surgery, but he doesn't count toward the limit due to not being on scholarship, so the number drops to 37. Seth Constable has been playing in the scrimmages, but is likely to redshirt as well after having another surgery performed on his leg (broken during his senior year of high school) over the winter. Since Constable is on scholarship, he will count toward the 34-man limit.

I've told you that Ahmad Christian has been playing well in the scrimmages, but he and the coaching staff knew all along that he would be unlikely to make the final roster. He's a good player, and the coaches wouldn't have him in the preseason scrimmages unless they thought he could contribute, but it's mostly about seeing what he can do next year if he still wants to play.

"Ahmad Christian, he's a guy who really doesn't have his baseball feet under him, but every day, he gets better and better," Tanner said. "There's days that we need that guy with us, there's other days where he probably needs to wait a little. It's not easy. In our game, walk-ons are a big deal. Going to be some tough decisions later in the week."

Christian is unlikely to make the final cut, due to not being around for fall practice and that he would have to unseat somebody to do so - and playing second base, there's just not much room for him to do that.

Should Christian be one of the others to get cut, the number drops to 36. USC will have to make a decision on which two players to cut, or on the off chance the Gamecocks keep Christian, which player will be cut so Christian can be added to the roster.

The starting lineup is obviously still in the air, but if I had to guess today, I'd say this is what you'll see on Friday. This is based on conversations with the coaching staff and what I've seen in the scrimmages (also a guess at the batting order, which could change once VMI releases its probable pitching rotation).

CF Evan Marzilli
RF Adam Matthews
1B Christian Walker
3B LB Dantzler
C Grayson Greiner
DH Jake Williams (against a left-hander)
DH Kyle Martin (against a right-hander)
SS Joey Pankake
2B Chase Vergason
LF Tanner English
P Michael Roth

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

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