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April 4, 2012

Will Montgomery become third weekend starter?



Freshman left-hander Jordan Montgomery accomplished something last week that one rarely sees in college baseball.

He was the winning pitcher for South Carolina in two games.

First, he started the 7-3 win at The Citadel on March 27, hurling a season-high 5 2-3 innings, allowing three hits and one run while striking out four to record his first career victory.

Four days later, Montgomery took the mound in the rubber game at Vanderbilt and proceeded to throw two scoreless innings with three strikeouts and one walk. Montgomery took over from Matt Price at the start of the bottom of the 12th and was the beneficiary of Christian Walker's two-run homer in the top of the 13th.

When the week started, Montgomery's career record was 0-0. Now it's 2-0. In the process, the first-year southpaw proved his mettle in the SEC wars for the first time. And it came on the road.

"Jordan can pitch," USC associate head coach Chad Holbrook said earlier this week on 107.5 The Game. "We're excited about Jordan's future here. But he can help us now. He's not one of those kids where we have to wait until his sophomore or junior year."

For the season, Montgomery has a 3.27 ERA with 20 strikeouts and just two walks in 22 innings. His previous five appearances prior to the outing against the Commodores in Nashville had come against non-conference foes.

Because his first trip to the mound against a conference opponent was a rousing success, you can expect more appearances for the 6-foot-3 Sumter native against SEC foes, possibly as early as this weekend when USC hosts Tennessee in a three-game set at Carolina Stadium, starting at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Behind Michael Roth and Colby Holmes, the role of third weekend starter is up for grabs. Could Montgomery land the role as a freshman?

"Is he going to get more opportunities in the league and conference?," Holbrook said. "Absolutely, he will. How we use him and whether he'll be a weekend starter is too early to tell right now. But we're very comfortable putting him into a big situation. That's why we went with him (Sunday). We felt that even though he's a freshman, he is very composed."

In the bottom of the 12th in Sunday's win, Montgomery gave up a one-out double and one-out walk. When the second out was made at second base on a fielder's-choice grounder, Vanderbilt had the winning run 90 feet away.

But, relying on his "plus" change-up, Montgomery buckled down and got the final Vandy hitter to fly to left on the first pitch for the third out. Moments later, Walker gave USC the lead for good.

"You do what he did on the road in this league, that was impressive for a young guy to do that," Holbrook said. "He pitched when his back was to the wall as far as having the winning run in scoring position and then he shut it down after getting the lead."

The fact Vanderbilt lacked a thorough scouting report on Montgomery was a major reason the USC coaches decided to put Montgomery on the mound on Sunday.

The strategy worked.

"He hadn't pitched in the league as of yet and he hadn't pitched on TV, so they didn't know too much about Jordan," Holbrook said. "He got to showcase the change-up. He threw strikes. He had great composure. It was really good for us to see. We certainly have no problem putting him back out there in some key moments."

USC has utilized sophomore Forrest Koumas (Florida) and freshman Evan Beal (Vanderbilt) as weekend starters during the two most recent SEC series. Beal zipped through the first three innings last week until he ran out of gas in the fourth inning in the middle of Vanderbilt's seven-run outburst.

Will the USC coaches now turn to Montgomery? Stay tuned.

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D. McCallum


South Carolina NEWS

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