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February 17, 2012

USC-VMI Diamond Extra



VIDEO: Michael Roth, LB Dantzler, Evan Marzilli


VIDEO: Ray Tanner


Perhaps it was predictable. There were three new faces in the infield, and it was a game where the former three highly decorated infielders were honored beforehand - all of them with one national championship ring, two of them with a pair.

"Peter Mooney kind of struggled last year at first, too," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner pointed out. "And he had (Adrian) Morales on one side and (Scott) Wingo on the other. Who are (the new guys) going to lean on?"

The No. 2 Gamecocks' fresh infield trio of second baseman Chase Vergason, shortstop Joey Pankake and third baseman LB Dantzler each struggled in the early innings of USC's 2-1 win over VMI on Friday, but they settled in late and contributed to the win. Dantzler had the game-winning hit in the eighth inning, driving in Evan Marzilli with a two-out single to center field, and the other two calmed down for tight defense.

"I think it was just … 8,000-plus out there," said Dantzler, who dropped a hot shot that was ruled a hit and also threw high to first base, a ball that Christian Walker stretched to save. "Everybody was a little nervous. After the fourth inning, we kind of got settled in."

Vergason and Dantzler came to USC from Florida junior colleges, where the attendance might have been 2,000 for a big game. Pankake, the freshman from Easley, was used to big crowds from attending games at USC, but hadn't played in front of many like the listed 8,242 that jammed Carolina Stadium on Friday.

The pulsing seats were pressure enough, but then there was the 2011 national championship team being honored beforehand. Morales, Mooney and Wingo were each in attendance.

"There's not going to be a Wingo, Mooney or Morales," Tanner said. "But (the new guys) got to play. You've got to try and win games as you go."

Vergason, who may have the most pressure on him after replacing a four-year starter in Wingo, had a grounder come up the middle, right over second base. He tried to backhand it and it skipped under his glove.

It was a difficult play, and Vergason, even if he had caught it, probably would have scrambled to make the out at second. But Wingo, after doing it in Omaha last year, potentially could have started a double play with it.

Dantzler had one muff ruled a hit and threw high, but it was saved. He later fielded a hot bouncer one-handed with no problems. Pankake fielded a ball and threw low to first base for the Gamecocks' only error.

Still, they came together for some routine plays later and settled in. Dantzler capped it with the game-winner.

"They've been comfortable, but they've been in practice," Tanner said. "It's part of the process."

WEBBY: After being part of the weekend rotation to start each of the past two seasons, Tyler Webb began his third season at USC in a very different way. Webb picked up the win with 2 1-3 innings of outstanding relief, allowing one hit and striking out four before ceding to Forrest Koumas.

"That was good," Tanner said. "The mission today was to put guys out there with a little bit of experience."

That was Webb, who had innings but had never made them last throughout the entire year. Mentioned as a potential candidate for closer with Koumas, Webb was warming up as starter Michael Roth began to approach his pitch count.

The left-hander didn't mess around, getting a grounder to first base for his first out and then striking out three of the next four. He allowed a leadoff single in the ninth inning, but struck out Rob Dickinson afterward before Koumas relieved.

WHO CALLED IT?: USC's first run of the season was scored when Vergason took home on a passed ball. He had reached on a fielder's choice, then advanced to second on Marzilli's single and took third on a wild pitch.

FRESH FACES: The Gamecocks started four freshmen (Pankake, Kyle Martin, Grayson Greiner, Tanner English) among six newcomers (Dantzler, Vergason) in the Opening Day lineup. Of the other four players, two are on the preseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award (Roth, Walker).

"That's hard to do, in this day and age of college baseball," Tanner said of the newbies.

THANKS!: USC nearly had to take the field in its practice jerseys, which are Under Armour T-shirts with numbers and no names. There was a snafu when USC's uniforms arrived with no nameplates. Making the matter worse, the nameplates were blank, with the letters having to be individually stitched on.

"I want to give a shout-out to T&T Sports," Roth said.

The company took USC's uniforms, stitched each letter onto the nameplate and then stitched the nameplates onto each jersey. "They were clutch today," Tanner said. "From what I understand, they shut down to dress us up today."

ROTH-ISMS: Besides the credit to T&T, Roth mentioned how nice it was to see his old teammates/friends on the field before the game. Naturally, he made the moment his.

"You still want to see Adrian at third - no offense, buddy," patting Dantzler on the back. Roth then went into his Morales impression, shouting, "Throw a striiiiiiike!"

The senior All-American also came out for the first inning to Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody." USC officials confirmed that Roth selected the music before Houston's untimely death last week.

SPEED UP: Marzilli and English were each thrown out stealing on Friday. The Gamecocks were 0-for-2 for the day.

FAMILIAR: When Wingo threw out his ceremonial first pitch, he did it from just inside his former second-base position. He was throwing to Robert Beary, mimicking the two huge plays against Florida in last year's College World Series.

TIME CHANGE: Saturday's game, originally scheduled for 3 p.m., has been moved to noon due to the threat of rain.

Sunday's game remains scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

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