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February 29, 2012

Dantzler perseveres through bad luck

LB Dantzler is batting just .200 (5-for-25) after seven games, but don't think for a moment that he's in any danger of being pulled from South Carolina's starting lineup.

Because he is not.

Dantzler has managed to make solid contact in most of his plate appearances, but has little to show for it except for a couple of home runs.

Tuesday's 2-1 victory over Presbyterian served as a backdrop of Dantzler's early frustrations as he lined out twice to right field, squaring the pitch up each time.

"LB hit two or three balls on the nose today, but he didn't have anything to show for it," USC coach Ray Tanner said after the close win over the Blue Hose. "LB is in a position where he is going to play. He's played good defense for us. He's had some good at-bats. His average is not where it needs to be. But we don't have a lot of at-bats right now."

Despite his low batting average, Dantzler still leads USC in homers (two), RBIs (nine), total bases (12) and slugging percentage (.571), and has performed flawlessly in the field without an error after two weekends.

Thus, he will remain a fixture at third base.

"He has a chance to get it going," Tanner said. "He had a lot of hits in the preseason. It's only natural that the season starts and he hits a buck-eighty (.180). I'm happy with his at-bats. Certainly, he would like to have a better average. But I have confidence in him. He has squared up some balls pretty good."

Dantzler will get his first taste of the intense USC-Clemson rivalry when the two schools square off three times within a span of 44 hours, starting at 6 p.m. on Friday at Joe Riley Park in Charleston.

The second game of the weekend series is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Carolina Stadium, while the finale of the three-game set is at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson.

While Dantzler could break out any game, senior Adam Matthews continued to struggle at the plate with an 0-for-3 outing in Tuesday's win, lowering his average to .158 (3-for-19). Unlike Dantzler, Matthews has strained to make solid contact at the plate and his confidence appears to be waning.

Tanner's advice? Keep pushing.

"There are a lot of guys who probably feel the same way he does as far as not swinging it real well right now and not making enough hard contact," Tanner said. "You just have to keep grinding it out. It's part of the game. You hope it evens out. He's had some success in the past. So, you keep moving forward and hope some good things happen. It's part of baseball."

While USC appears set for the time being at third base, the same should not be said for second base. Tuesday, freshman TJ Costen made his second start of the season there and struggled defensively.

Historically, Tanner has exhibited a preference for playing older players against USC's bigger rivals, so JUCO transfer Chase Vergason will likely get the starting nod on Friday even though he is batting just .143. However, he has proven to be USC's best defensive second baseman, so that might be the difference.

Vergason replaced Costen at second base midway through Tuesday night's contest.

Tanner hoped to have the second-base scenario solved by this point, but that hasn't happen with the Clemson series looming.

"I know (Kevin) Brady is on the mound Friday, so I'll probably just try to match it up as good as I can," Tanner said. "We have two days of practice to see if I can get comfortable in one area. I sat those three guys (Vergason, Costen and Connor Bright) down and talked with them.

"I told them this was not an ideal situation for any of them because we really don't know how we're going right now. It's hard to play like that, but they have to accept it. We may not settle in right now."

Shortstop Joey Pankake continued his encouraging start with a game-winning home run in Tuesday's 2-1 victory over pesky Presbyterian. He is batting .273 (6-for-22) with one homer, 11 RBIs, three walks and a .500 slugging percentage.

After committing a throwing error in the Feb. 17 season-opener against VMI, Pankake has settled down defensively as well with just one miscue in the last six games. He currently has 18 assists and seven putouts.

"He has just gotten more comfortable as time goes," Tanner said. "He is a guy we recruited because we thought he was really good. And he is. The ability is there. He has a good arm. He has some power. He can run pretty well. He has some tools. He's a young guy, so he probably wasn't as comfortable in the VMI series as he should have been.

"He's starting to recognize things when they happen during the game. He does seem to be playing a little more relaxed, which is a good thing. When a ball is hit his way, you feel he is going to make the play."

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D. McCallum

South Carolina NEWS


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