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February 23, 2012

Second base still unsettled for USC

WHAT: Elon (4-0) at No. 3 South Carolina (3-0)
WHERE: Carolina Stadium, Columbia
WHEN: 3 p.m. Friday, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Sunday
TV/RADIO: Gamecock Radio Network, 107.5 The Game in Columbia for all games (Andy Demetra and Tommy Moody)
USC -- LHP Michael Roth (Friday), RHP Matt Price (Saturday), RHP Colby Holmes (Sunday) Elon - RHP Kyle Webb, LHP Dylan Clark (Saturday), RHP David Whitehead (Sunday)

Going into last week's season-opening series against VMI, South Carolina coach Ray Tanner thought junior-college transfer Chase Vergason would be USC's starting second baseman for most of the season.

One week later, the position is a virtual free-for-all.

With the start of the second weekend of the college baseball season hours away, Tanner acknowledged on Tuesday that he isn't sure who will start at second base when USC and Elon begin a three-game series at Carolina Stadium at 3 p.m. on Friday. The series will continue with 1:30 p.m. games on Saturday and Sunday.

Vergason, freshman TJ Costen (Saturday) and freshman Connor Bright (Sunday) all started one game at second last weekend. Was anything settled? Not really.

"We're still trying to figure out what our best lineup will be," Tanner said. "We want to get settled in. They're all good players and they all bring different components to the game. We're trying to get it solidified as quickly as we can. It may not be settled this weekend, either. We've joked this week that we're having tryouts at second base.

"We played three different guys last weekend and it might happen again."

As far as USC's starting lineup is concerned, USC's starting rotation will remain the same with Michael Roth (Friday), Matt Price (Saturday) and Colby Holmes (Sunday) all taking their regular turns, and Evan Marzilli will likely remain the leadoff hitter after going 6-for-12 last weekend.

Marzilli's parents will be in the stands this weekend after making the trip from Rhode Island.

"I came out in the spring and wanted to hit leadoff and do what I had to do in order to accomplish that," Marzilli said. "I felt pretty comfortable out there on the first weekend. Hopefully, I can continue that. I'll hit where they want me to, but if I keep producing the way I'm capable of, there is no reason I shouldn't be (leadoff)."

Roth and Price each threw 89 pitches in their outings last week. Tanner said his three starters will continue to be subject to pitch counts in the early going.

"We'll stay with the pitch counts for all our guys right now," Tanner said. "They'll still have some limits. We're not going to run them up there to the 125- or 130-pitch range just yet. But Roth and Price have some stripes on their sleeves, so they have an opportunity now to make some decisions themselves. What they say counts. But we still won't exceed the pitch count. We'll still have a leash on them."

Veterans Nolan Belcher, Adam Westmoreland and Patrick Sullivan didn't take the mound last weekend, but we could see them against the Phoenix, especially with a midweek game against Presbyterian looming on Tuesday.

"I'm not too concerned with what's coming (next week)," Tanner said. "Last week, we had a chance to put in some new guys on Sunday. We had a chance to pitch those guys. We didn't think pitching Belcher, Westmoreland or Sullivan was a dire need. Those guys have been around a little bit. But it was important to get the other guys' feet wet. Would I like to get those guys on the mound this week? Yes, I would. But it will be situational."

USC faces a spunky Elon team this weekend, that won four games last weekend over George Mason (twice), Akron and N.C. A&T. The Phoenix won the Southern Conference regular-season title last year with a 23-7 mark, but weren't invited to the NCAA tournament after quickly being eliminated from the conference tourney.

Elon's NCAA slight raises the question of whether the Southern Conference is underrated nationally. USC plays 11 games against Southern Conference foes in 2012.

"It's not underrated by me," Tanner said. "We play all those teams. Certainly, you'd think the Southern Conference is a two- or three-team bid league. They have some pretty good teams. Having played a lot of those teams, it may be underrated nationally."

Elon possesses plenty of team speed, with 10 stolen bases in the first four games. Four players have two stolen bases each, so the Phoenix spread the wealth.

"They will be very well-prepared," Tanner said. "They're going to run bases. They're in double-digits already through four games. That seems to be the one thing that jumps out at you going into this series. We'll have to defend the running game because that is what they do offensively. They're a solid team."

Elon features a weekend rotation led by starters Kyle Webb (1-0), a 6-foot-1 right-hander, Dylan Clark (1-0), a 6-foot-5 lefty and David Whitehead (0-0), that could prove to be a handful for the Gamecocks. Webb and Clark are juniors, while Whitehead is a sophomore.

"We know it will be a difficult weekend for us," Tanner said.

LAST MEETING: USC won 10-6 on March 27, 2007, at Elon
STREAK: USC has won two straight

C - Grayson Greiner OR Dante Rosenberg
1B - Christian Walker
2B - Chase Vergason OR TJ Costen OR Connor Bright
3B - LB Dantzler
SS - Joey Pankake
LF - Tanner English
CF - Evan Marzilli
RF - Adam Matthews
DH - Kyle Martin
P - Michael Roth

C - Alex Swim
1B - Ryan Kinsella
2B - Sebastian Gomez
3B - Chris Bresnahan
SS - Garrett Koster
LF - Jake Luce
CF - Niko Fraser
RF - Quinn Bower
DH - Michael Elefante
P - Kyle Webb

Elon, 3 p.m. Friday
Elon, 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Elon, 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Presbyterian, 7 p.m. Tuesday
Clemson, 6 p.m. on March 2 (at Charleston)


* Tanner said he wants USC to improve its hitting with runners on base by being more aggressive when it's ahead in the count. USC stranded 24 runners in last weekend's three-game series.

* Kyle Martin is listed as the designated hitter for the Elon series after hitting .500 (4-for-8) last weekend. However, Tanner suggested other players could get an opportunity at the plate as well, including Winthrop transfer Sean Sullivan. He had two at-bats last weekend. Tanner described him as a "mature hitter."

* This weekend marks the second time Elon has faced the defending national champions. In 2002, the Phoenix won two of three games against Miami and were one out away from claiming a series sweep.

(All three-game series unless noted)
Arkansas Pine-Bluff at Alabama
Valparaiso at Arkansas
Auburn at Arizona
William & Mary at Florida
Winthrop at Georgia
Buffalo at Kentucky
Appalachian State at LSU
UNC-Wilmington at Ole Miss
Kansas at Mississippi State
Seton Hall at Tennessee
Oregon at Vanderbilt

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D. McCallum

South Carolina NEWS


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