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May 5, 2012

Diamond Extra: Walker returns to lineup



FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - The hamstring was fine, which was really not ever a question.

If Christian Walker was going to play the national championship series last year with a broken hand, he wasn't going to miss an SEC game due to a simple hamstring strain.

Walker, after missing Wednesday's win over Davidson with a strained hamstring, started and played at first base during Friday's 8-6 10th-inning win at No. 18 Arkansas, also returning to his customary third spot in the batting order. He went 1-for-5 with a walk and showed no signs of rust, even when running out a close play at first base.

The return slightly eased some concerns about No. 5 South Carolina's overall health, but the Gamecocks must still find a Sunday pitcher after Colby Holmes (arm strain) didn't make the trip. Closer Matt Price, a potential candidate, only threw 15 pitches on Friday and could be available (if he isn't used on Saturday) and Tyler Webb did not pitch. Neither did Nolan Belcher, but Belcher did warm up during Friday's game.

TOUCHED: Arkansas starter Ryne Stanek hadn't given up a home run all season (over 69 innings) until Grayson Greiner took him into the left-field seats in Friday's sixth inning. Greiner belted a first-pitch breaking ball well into the seats lining the Arkansas bullpen.

It was the sixth homer for the freshman from Blythewood, who has brought his bat around tremendously over the past few weeks. He also made several solid stops on balls in the dirt to keep the potential winning run at third base during the ninth inning.

DIRT: Freshman Tanner English scored a run in the sixth when Joey Pankake flew out to the wall. Although catcher Jake Wise mishandled the bounce, English came running in intent on colliding, and did so with a hard hit.

Wise lost his mask and never had the ball, and English scored the tying run.

NO MORTARBOARD: Michael Roth resumed his customary spot on the Friday-night pitcher's mound, while his name was being read over 900 miles away.

Roth was graduated from USC on Friday, although he was obviously not in attendance to participate in the traditional handshake with the school president and walk across the stage. The senior leaves USC with a degree in international business, marketing and Spanish, and with magna cum laude honors.

"It's kind of surreal, that I'll have a diploma soon," Roth said on Thursday. "To me, it wasn't that tough. There are some days where you have to put in more work than you'd like to get the good grades. Something I expected, something my parents always expected."

Of course, Roth had to offer his own twisted view of missing his ceremony. He didn't mind in the least.

"I had no intention of walking," he said. "My mom didn't walk. Neither of my parents walked. I went to my sister's graduation and it took four hours. I thought I'd be OK with not going."

Roth had one academic goal remaining. He was waiting for one final grade to come in so he could compute his final grade-point average, which stood at 3.833 before this semester. Roth already earned three A's, and was waiting for a potential fourth.

"The one thing I just got to make sure of, I got to get a higher GPA than my sister," Roth said. "I at least tied her. She had a 3.83. We might have to go to three digits."

And where did Lindsay Roth attend?

"Clemson," her brother answered. "Unfortunately."

SWIMMINGLY: LB Dantzler's pet fish, Reptar, came through his first plane ride with flying colors but didn't attend the game. He was back at the team hotel in his roomier travel aquarium.

The fish didn't come to Plainsman Park during the Auburn series until the final day, since USC was getting on the bus right after. He stayed in the hotel for the first two games, so there was no messing with the winning streak.

JAKE: USC has kept up its habit of scrawling a large "40" in front of its dugout. The mark is a tribute to former outfielder Jake Williams, who participated in fall and preseason practice but decided not to play this year.

Williams, as Tanner has said, has been going through some personal problems. USC still honors his contributions by writing his jersey number in the dirt during games.

"We kind of did that last year, during his suspension period," Roth said (Williams was out for a week after an alcohol-related arrest). "We were struggling early in the SEC so somebody was like, 'We need to draw a 40 where Jake used to stand in the dugout.' We put it out there and we've been on a hot streak, so we keep doing it."

Williams remained enrolled at USC for the spring semester. He will always hold a piece of USC history after hurling the perfect relay throw to Robert Beary during Game 1 of last year's national championship series, a throw that Beary caught on the bounce and kept carrying it into the side of the sliding Cody Dent.

SEC STANDINGS
Team SEC Overall
SEC East
South Carolina 15-7 35-11
Florida 14-9 35-12
Kentucky 14-9 36-11
Georgia 10-12 26-20
Vanderbilt 9-13 21-24
Tennessee 8-14 23-22
SEC West
LSU 15-7 37-10
Arkansas 11-11 33-14
Mississippi State 11-11 28-17
Auburn 10-12 25-20
Ole Miss 10-12 30-17
Alabama 6-16 17-29
Friday's games
Mississippi State 3, Alabama 1
South Carolina 8, Arkansas 6 (10)
Georgia 5, Auburn 2
Florida 5, Kentucky 1
LSU 4, Ole Miss 3 (13)
Tennessee 8, Vanderbilt 2

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