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February 21, 2012

Webb, Carter vital in first series

Ray Tanner wanted to give as many of his players as he could the chance to play on Opening Weekend, and did. Third-ranked South Carolina swept VMI in its season-opening series and 26 of the 34 Gamecocks got to play, including 10 freshmen.

The contributions from the new faces were nice to see. They will have to play integral roles this season, and they'll be the players to carry the program forward when the veterans depart.

But Tanner also got two outstanding performances from two old standbys, which brought another smile to his face.

Juniors Tyler Webb and Ethan Carter each sparkled in their 2012 debuts, solidifying a bullpen that was stocked with youth and showing that the Gamecocks have more than just Michael Roth and Matt Price. The duo, each from Virginia and each part of the same 2010 recruiting class, locked down two of the Gamecocks' three wins over the Keydets and got their seasons off to solid starts.

Webb replaced Michael Roth in the seventh inning of a 1-1 game, part of Tanner's plan to put an upperclassman on the mound since the margin for error was shrinking. "The mission today was to put the guys out there that had a little bit of experience," Tanner said. "That was part of going to Webb right away."

The big left-hander had always had the talent to be on the mound, but had lost his opportunities to blossom each time. A weekend starter after each of his first two fall sessions, Webb lost the spot in each of his first two springs.

But on Friday, after injuries had docked him a third fall session, Webb was given a chance to come in and shut down one of his home-state schools. Dialed in from the first pitch, Webb hurled 2 1-3 shutout innings, yielding just one hit, and struck out four.

He earned his first win since May 2011 and kept his name in the candidacy for a setup or potentially closing role. While Forrest Koumas relieved Webb and got the save, it was more of a matchup question instead of actually wanting to get a new pitcher in there.

Most importantly, Webb proved that he could be counted on. His falls have been great, his springs not so much; he and Tanner are hoping that Friday was the start of a great spring.

Carter also took the mound by storm, pitching four shutout innings and picking up the win in Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader. His slider flummoxing Keydet bats from the outset, Carter battled through a near-disaster that he inherited to keep the Gamecocks afloat.

Coming in with the bases loaded and nobody out, Carter struck out his first batter and got a gift after he gave up an RBI single. VMI tried to score two runs on the hit, but Tanner English fired a bullet to the plate to nab the back runner and Carter had enough ammo to get the third out.

After that, he baffled the Keydets for just one more hit and ended with six strikeouts, completing a long road back. A freshman who contributed throughout the first half of the season in 2010, Carter was kicked off the team in December of that year and spent last season in junior college. Despite having some scholarship offers to choose from, Carter chose to walk on at USC for a chance to get back where he was.

"He's been around the block a little bit," Tanner said. "We decided that things didn't go the way we wanted to when he was here the first time. We gave him the opportunity to get back in the program and so far, so good. It was nice to see him out there."

USC will use freshmen pitchers like Evan Beal and Joel Seddon extensively this season, but is also getting a hand from two veterans.

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