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April 6, 2012

Volunteers come to town



TENNESSEE (19-10, 5-4 SEC) at NO. 11 SOUTH CAROLINA (21-8, 3-6)
When: 7 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Carolina Stadium, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
TV: ESPNU (Saturday)
Probable starting pitchers: Tennessee - RHP Zack Godley (today, 4-1, 3.89 ERA); LHP T.J. Thornton (Saturday, 0-0, 5.40); RHP Nick Williams (Sunday, 2-2, 2.32). South Carolina -- LHP Michael Roth (today, 3-0, 1.68), LHP Jordan Montgomery (Saturday, 2-0, 3.27); RHP Colby Holmes (Sunday, 3-0, 2.84)
Notes: Ray Tanner's first meeting with new Tennessee coach Dave Serrano. … Associate head coach Chad Holbrook interviewed with the Volunteers for the position last year before removing his name from consideration. … Godley is a Bamberg native and pitched at Spartanburg Methodist. … USC's pitching staff leads the SEC with a .196 opponents' batting average. … USC leads the overall series 46-33, and 12-3 over the past five years. … The Gamecocks are 12-6 in games decided by three runs or less.
Next up: USC hosts The Citadel at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

It's been five days, but Ray Tanner doesn't see anything wrong with expecting confidence from that game to carry over to the next one.

"We're dealing with young people," 11th-ranked South Carolina's coach said on Thursday. "Emotion and momentum is a big deal, in my opinion, regardless of the sport. Just the fact that you feel better will last a few days."

The Gamecocks (21-8, 3-6 SEC) got a win that clinched their first SEC series win five days ago at Vanderbilt, Christian Walker's 13th-inning home run providing the winning margin. It lifted USC from a drubbing on Saturday and kept it from matching a dubious distinction - the only team since Tanner took over to drop its first three league series.

USC returned feeling well, and channeled that into a 7-0 whitewash of College of Charleston on Wednesday. Now back at home for two straight weekends, the Gamecocks want to climb out of their self-imposed hole.

Confidence, carried from Vanderbilt or Wednesday or wherever, is key to that.

"By being able to win that last game at Vanderbilt, it did give us a chance to exhale a little bit," Tanner said. "Last night we played really well. Maybe this gives us more confidence and a little bit of comfort."

USC will put it on the line against Tennessee, a team that Tanner labeled as red-hot and one that is showing that it may not be a year or two away from success, as many thought. Under first-year coach Dave Serrano, the Volunteers have won five of their first nine SEC games, soothing what had been a bad stretch after a strong beginning.

The Gamecocks' offense, at the top of the order, anyway, is beginning to solidify. Newly promoted leading hitter Joey Pankake, Walker and Brison Celek are forming a very good 2-3-4 in the lineup, and leadoff man Evan Marzilli continues to get on base.

"I didn't even know that until yesterday," Marzilli said, feigning ignorance of his 29-game streak of reaching base. "Somebody told me after the game. We struggled a little bit in the beginning to get some runs in. Hopefully now we just keep it up."

If the runs continue to be at a premium, though, USC will have to keep it up on the pitching end. Tanner declared freshman Jordan Montgomery his Saturday starter after Montgomery picked up the win over Vanderbilt on Sunday, and Matt Price will remain in the bullpen.

"When I talked to (Montgomery) on Sunday, when he was throwing, I was just getting in his face, 'Relax, stay calm, pound the zone,'" said Price, speaking of his instructions to his fellow Sumter native. "'Give our team a chance to win at the end.'"

Tanner is just hoping that the jolt of confidence from two good games will be enough to get the ship righted. Entering the fourth SEC series of the season, the Gamecocks don't have a lot of free time to set themselves up for the best postseason situation.

"There is a sense of urgency, there's no doubt about it," Tanner said. "We're having to climb. It's going to be that way, I feel like, the entire season.

"We dug ourselves a hole, we have to try to fill it up."

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