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February 25, 2013

Look Back, Look Ahead: Rivalry week

Chad Holbrook accomplished something in his first six games as coach of South Carolina that Ray Tanner didn't do in 16 superb seasons at the USC helm.

Coach a team that threw a no-hitter.

Three pitchers - Colby Holmes, Forrest Koumas and Josh Knab - combined to hold Albany hitless in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader at Carolina Stadium for the program's first no-hitter since 1975.

If there was anticipation of Holbrook tossing a few light jabs in the direction of his boss, it was wasted.

"I might needle him about it down the road and ask him if he was ever part of a no-hitter at South Carolina," Holbrook laughed. "He'll say, 'Were you ever a head coach that won two national championships?'"

While most Gamecock fans are familiar with Holmes and Koumas, the no-hitter made Knab's Gamecock debut a memorable occasion. Knab transferred into the program from USC Sumter before the 2012 season. Coincidentally, Holmes and Knab both grew up in Conway, but attended different high schools.

"I was pleased with how Colby threw," Holbrook said. "Forrest did all right even though he had three walks. But he managed it the best he could. He has some good life on his fastball. Knab got his feet wet and finished it up. I thought the ball was coming out of Knab's hand pretty good. It was neat to be part of a no-hitter. It was a neat accomplishment for our pitching staff."

The rare no-no punctuated the weekend sweep over Albany, but the three wins were far from easy. Even in the no-hitter, USC trailed 1-0 going to the bottom of the fifth, when it piled on nine runs to win in a rout.

In the nightcap, USC watched Albany crawl back from an early 6-0 deficit to score twice in the top of the ninth and have the tying run on base. But closer Tyler Webb finally put a stamp on the sweep with a game-ending strikeout.

USC reached double digits in hits in all three games and two hitters shone the brightest. LB Dantzler continued to sizzle at the plate, going 9-for-13 with 10 RBIs, six runs scored and four extra-base hits, raising his average after six games to an eye-popping .545 (12-for-22) with three homers and 13 RBIs.

Dantzler was deservingly named SEC Player of the Week on Monday. He had 17 total bases for the weekend with a .733 on-base percentage and a glistening 1.308 slugging percentage.

Dantzler tied three Carolina Stadium records for a three-game series with 17 total bases, nine hits and six runs scored. He had the most hits in a three-game series at Carolina Stadium since Jackie Bradley Jr. tallied nine in a three-game series against Vanderbilt in May 2009. Also, his 17 total bases were the most in a three-game series since Nick Ebert finished with 17 against Georgia from May 14-16, 2009. It is the most runs since Bradley Jr. had six vs. Mississippi State from April 2-4, 2010.

Junior-college transfer Graham Saiko has solidified the top of the order after replacing Tanner English following the season-opener. He reached base five times in the opening game of the series against Albany on two singles and three walks, then added a two-run single in the fifth inning uprising in Sunday's lid-lifter.

"Coach Holbrook talked to me and said there was a chance (that batting leadoff) could happen," Saiko said. "He wants me to go up there and take as many pitches as possible and try to see what the pitcher has. I'm slowly getting used to hitting leadoff."

Through six games, Saiko is batting .300 (6-for-20) with four RBIs, six runs scored and an on-base percentage of .481. Heady stuff for a kid from Newburgh, Ind., although he did excel at Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College in 2012.

"I'm really fortunate to be here," Saiko said. "I was lucky enough to catch coach Holbrook's eye. This is one of the best places in the country to play baseball, so I'm just glad to be here."

If Saiko (pronounced "Psycho") continues to flourish atop the order, he might be forced to switch his walkup song to the popular 1980s tune "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads.

"I've had some people tell me I should change it," Saiko said. "But I think I'm doing OK getting on base right now. So, I don't know if I want to change it and mess up any karma."

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: LB Dantzler and Graham Saiko
NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 7 in Baseball America, No. 7 in Collegiate Baseball, No. 10 PerfectGameUSA

Feb. 23 vs. Albany, W 8-3
Feb. 24 vs. Albany, W 14-1
Feb. 24 vs. Albany, W 6-4 (DH)

PALMETTO STATE FOES NEXT: This week features four games against Palmetto State rivals starting with Tuesday's 4 p.m. matchup against pesky Furman at Carolina Stadium. The Paladins have given the Gamecocks problems in the past and this year should be no different.

Furman swept three games at the First Pitch Invitational in Greenville this past weekend, beating Miami (Ohio), Michigan State and Cincinnati.

"Furman has a good team and they're off to a good start," Holbrook said. "They'll come in here with some confidence. We'll have to be ready to play. They have some good players, some that I recruited a little bit when they were in high school. We'll have our work cut out for us. They always come down here ready to play. We'll have to be ready to match Furman's intensity."

Shortstop Joey Pankake suffered a muscle strain in his leg on Sunday and is listed as doubtful for Tuesday's game. If he is unable to play, freshman DC Arendas from Greensboro, N.C., should get the start.

"I'll be shocked if he plays Tuesday and I'm very hopeful he'll be ready for the weekend," Holbrook said.

The two teams later meet on April 3 at Fluor Field.

This weekend marks the fourth straight year that USC has faced rival Clemson in an early-season three-game series rather than spacing the games throughout the schedule.

Tuesday vs. Furman, 4 p.m.
Friday at Clemson, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday vs. Clemson, 2 p.m. (at Fluor Field, Greenville)
Sunday vs. Clemson, 3 p.m.

* The nine-run total in the bottom of the fifth inning Sunday vs. Albany was the most runs in a single inning by the Gamecocks since March 9, 2010, when they scored 10 runs in the bottom of the third of a 12-4 win over Valparaiso.

* Freshman second baseman Max Schrock drove in at least one run in all three games this past weekend. Schrock was 2-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs scored in the 14-1 win over Albany and followed with a 2-for-4 performance with a triple in the 6-4 victory. Schrock has seven RBIs for the year, second-highest on the team, and leads the Gamecocks with three stolen bases.

* Senior infielder Chase Vergason is off to a hot start at the plate. He launched his second career home run in a 14-1 win over Albany. His previous homer came on May 5, 2012, at Arkansas. His three RBIs were a career-high and his three hits tied a career-high. Vergason is hitting .385 (5-for-13) with a .579 on-base percentage.

* Jordan Montgomery had a streak of 17 2-3 consecutive innings without allowing a run snapped in the top of the fourth of Game 1 on Saturday when he yielded a solo home run. Along with two victories, he has a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings pitched with 10 strikeouts.

* The switch-hitting experiment is going well for English. He has hit safely in all six games this year and will take a lofty .421 (8-for-19) average for the season with seven runs scored and a .542 on-base percentage into Tuesday's game.

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