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April 22, 2012

Diamond Extra: Tanner wins another dice roll



AUBURN, Ala. - Ray Tanner gambled and rolled another winner.

South Carolina's 16th-year skipper put Erik Payne in at designated hitter for Sunday's series finale at Auburn, after Connor Bright had played the first two games. The right-handed Payne, hitting against left-handed Daniel Koger with a strong wind sweeping to right field, lifted the first pitch he saw into the jet stream, and it carried over the fence for a three-run home run.

USC leaped ahead 4-0 and never looked back in an 11-7 whipping for its second straight series sweep.

"Just playing numbers," Tanner said. "We've got all kinds of statistics in this day and age. I looked at some different scenarios, played the numbers today. It worked out."

Payne wound up going 1-for-3 with four RBIs, collecting another run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth. It was his first start at DH since Feb. 28, and coming into the game, his .294 average in SEC play was second on the team.

LIGHTNING CRASHING: Adam Matthews continued to struggle, going a combined 0-for-12 in the series with two walks, a sacrifice bunt and an RBI (on a groundout). His batting average plummeted to .202.

"I don't think his weekend's maybe as bad as his numbers look," Tanner said. "I hang with my older guys as long as things are going good and we're winning. If that changes a little bit, then you have to make some moves."

Tanner was very supportive of Matthews and didn't say that he was considering a change or that he was going to make one, but it is concerning that a senior captain is badly slumping with just 15 regular-season games to go. While USC hit the ball against the Tigers, the offense has been a concern in so many other games that it's hard to say the problems are solved.

There aren't many options for right field if Tanner does decide to make a change, anyway. TJ Costen has played some left field, but has only played in 23 games with seven starts. The other players on the bench are infielders. Patrick Harrington is an outfielder, but has only played in two games due to injury.

"He plays solid defense out there for us," Tanner said. "I still have some confidence in him and I keep sending him out there."

NO-SHOW: Joel Seddon turned down a 20th-round selection by Toronto to come to USC, and figured to challenge for a midweek starting spot, if not a weekend starting role in his first year. Instead, even in a 12-5 whitewash of Auburn on Friday, Seddon couldn't get in the game.

"I'm a big fan of Joel Seddon," Tanner said on Friday. "I really like the kid, I think he's got a tremendous upside for us, but he's sort of gotten behind some people. He doesn't throw as many strikes as we'd like for him to throw."

Seddon is 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA and one save, striking out five and walking three in 7 1-3 innings this season. He hasn't thrown since March 31, when he tossed an inning against Vanderbilt and yielded a run on one hit with one strikeout.

But as USC's pitching staff has banded together to be the backbone of a team that is righting itself for a run at the SEC East championship, Seddon has gotten left behind. Jordan Montgomery harnessed the other weekend starting role, Matt Price returned to the closer's spot, Nolan Belcher and Adam Westmoreland took the midweek spots and Tyler Webb became the most trusted long-relief man.

The future looks good for Seddon, due to what USC is likely to lose. Michael Roth will be gone, with Price likely to take a pro spot. Webb and Colby Holmes could be drafted.

"Certainly, we like him and he's with us and he may get some opportunities here and there," Tanner said. "He needs a big summer, and he'll be a candidate next year to get a lot of innings or appearances."

Seddon, Tanner said, is set to join the Forest City Owls of the Coastal Plain League this summer. The Owls, coached by former Gamecock Phil Disher, have also signed shortstop Joey Pankake and outfielder TJ Costen for the summer.

THE CLEMSON INFLUENCE: Auburn took the field on Sunday in all-white uniforms, trimmed in orange and blue. The Tigers wore their customary white cleats and white caps as well.

With Under Armour footing the bill, Auburn coach John Pawlowski decided to change things when he took the job before the 2009 season. He brought the influence of Clemson, his alma mater and coaching stop for five years.

Each set of Tigers wears white shoes, and at least on Sunday, Auburn's players wore their white pants long with no high socks (Auburn did have some in high socks during the other two games of the series). Pawlowski also brought in the idea of several different caps to wear, just as Clemson does.

OUTTA HERE: Dan Glevenyak was rung up by plate umpire A.J. Lostaglio to end Sunday's game, leaving the bases loaded and an 11-7 score. Glevenyak, who thought the pitch was low, voiced his displeasure and was summarily ejected.

Umpires can eject a player or coach after the game concludes, and Lostaglio didn't like what Glevenyak told him. He had already told the Auburn dugout to knock off the chirping during the game.

Pawlowski argued but the call stands. Under SEC rules, Glevenyak will have to sit out Auburn's next game, which is Tuesday at Troy.

SEC STANDINGS
Team SEC Overall
SEC East
Kentucky 13-5 35-6
Florida 11-7 31-9
South Carolina 11-7 30-11
Georgia 8-10 24-17
Tennessee 7-11 22-18
Vanderbilt 7-11 18-22
SEC West
LSU 12-6 32-9
Arkansas 9-9 28-12
Ole Miss 9-9 27-13
Mississippi State 8-10 24-16
Auburn 7-11 21-19
Alabama 6-12 16-25
Sunday's games
Vanderbilt 9, Alabama 7
Arkansas 11, Ole Miss 3
South Carolina 11, Auburn 7
Florida 6, Georgia 3
Kentucky 7, LSU 6
Next week's series
Alabama at South Carolina
Arkansas at Florida
Tennessee at Auburn
Georgia at LSU
Kentucky at Vanderbilt
Ole Miss at Mississippi State

SEC TOURNAMENT WATCH

Printable bracket

We'll update this after every conference game from here on out.

The SEC tournament has expanded to 10 teams this year, giving two more teams a chance to compete in Hoover (and polish their resumes for the NCAA Regionals). A look at where each team would fall if the season ended today.

Kentucky took a series 2-1 from LSU, giving the Wildcats the inside track to the regular-season championship and the No. 1 seed. Today, Kentucky would be No. 1 and LSU would be No. 2, but the Tigers are only a game behind the Wildcats.

Florida and South Carolina are each a game behind LSU. Florida beat the Gamecocks in a series, so the Gators would be No. 3 and USC No. 4

Arkansas and Ole Miss are tied for the fifth seed, but Ole Miss just finished a 2-1 series victory over the Razorbacks. The Rebels would be fifth and the Hogs sixth.

Georgia and Mississippi State are tied for the seventh seed. The two teams do not play each other this year, so if the tie holds through the end of the regular season, the seed would go to the non-divisional opponent tiebreaker (record against the No. 1 seed). Right now, Mississippi State would win the tiebreaker, due to not playing Kentucky (May 17-19). Georgia lost its series 2-1 to the Wildcats.

Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Auburn are tied for the ninth spot with 7-11 records. Vanderbilt and Tennessee have not played each other yet, and neither have Auburn and Tennessee. Today, Vanderbilt would win the No. 9 seed by virtue of its series win over Auburn, and Auburn would be 10th. Tennessee would join Alabama on the stay-at-home list.

SEEDS
1. Kentucky
2. LSU
3. Florida
4. South Carolina
5. Ole Miss
6. Arkansas
7. Mississippi State
8. Georgia
9. Vanderbilt
10. Auburn
OUT: Tennessee, Alabama

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