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February 3, 2014

Mooney engaged in shortstop battle



Marcus Mooney glided to his right, gloved a hard grounder targeted for left field, acrobatically twisted his body and fired to first base for the first out in Saturday's scrimmage at Carolina Stadium.

For a fleeting moment, you would have thought you were again watching his older brother, Peter Mooney, play shortstop for South Carolina on the 2011 national championship team.

Marcus Mooney, though, aspires to build his own path with the Gamecocks rather than being simply known as the second coming of his older brother.

"Peter and my dad taught me everything I know, and he (Peter) is my role model," Mooney said recently. "I want to be as good of a player as he is. But I'm out there doing my own thing. When I'm out there, you'll see a bunch of similarities between him and me. I have studied his game. Now I want to bring in my own techniques."

Mooney is locked in a heated battle with sophomore D.C. Arendas for the starting shortstop job, and the competition that has raged since the beginning of fall practice may not be decided until days before the 2014 season opener on Feb. 14 against Bucknell.

"It's a friendly competition," Mooney said. "D.C. and I are friends. We take ground balls together and we hit in the cage together. Regardless of who gets the spot, we're not going to hate each other. Wherever he (Chad Holbrook) puts me, I'm going to do the job. But it does put a little chip on your shoulder and makes you want to play better and get better every day.

"At the end of the day, one of us is going to be the starting shortstop. You can only hope for the best. We'll see what happens."

Both Mooney and Arendas have worked at other infield positions besides shortstop in case they are needed elsewhere because of injuries or other reasons.

A native of Loxahatchee, Fla., Mooney played one season at Palm Beach State College, batting .327 with 11 doubles, 30 RBI, 56 runs scored and 18 stolen bases as PBSC reached the championship game of the 2013 JUCO World Series.

Mooney compiled a .389 on-base percentage with 19 walks and just 16 strikeouts in 254 at-bats during the 2013 season. Holbrook has inserted Mooney into the No. 2 spot in the batting order in recent scrimmages, expecting he will set the table for the Gamecocks' power hitters in the middle of the lineup.

"I'm pretty much everything (at the plate) except for a power guy," Mooney said. "I like to hit balls into the gaps, I like bunting and using my speed and stealing bases. That's my game."

Mooney, who earned a spot on the All-Tournament team, and his teammates typically played in front of crowds of 12,000 or more during the JUCO World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., which he hopes accelerates his transition from the sparse crowds that usually attended PBSC regular season games to the typical sold-out crowds of 8,000-plus fans at Carolina Stadium.

"Playing in front of those large crowds should help a little bit," Mooney said. "That should take some of the pressure off the first couple of games and get the jitters out."

Mooney is the third brother in his family to play the infield at the major college level as older brother Michael played at Florida several years ago.

Pulled in different directions during his recruitment, Marcus Mooney acknowledged Peter Mooney's positive experiences at USC during his single season with the Gamecocks swayed him towards Columbia.

USC began recruiting Marcus when he was still in high school, but opted for the JUCO route in order to develop physically and mentally into a Division I-caliber shortstop. Holbrook called back when he was at PBSC and the road to Columbia was finally paved.

"I knew they had the best caliber players coming here," Marcus Mooney said. "I knew if I came here, they were going to be successful. Coach Holbrook called me and said they needed a shortstop. I hopped on that boat and came here. When I came here on a visit, there was no leaving this place. "

Brotherly competition has taken root, though, with Peter already claiming a national title and Marcus aiming to duplicate or exceed him.

"I want to get a couple more rings than he did," Marcus Mooney smiled. "Hopefully, we're playing in the last game of the year."

Mooney, however, eyes following his brother's footsteps into professional baseball. Drafted by the Blue Jays in June of 2011, Peter Mooney spent the 2013 season with Dunedin of the High-A Florida State League, batting .244 in 80 games.

"They love him in the organization and they think he's a tremendous shortstop," Marcus Mooney said. "I model my game after him. Hopefully, I'll get some looks too. I know what they're looking for now that he's going through it. That should help."

DM


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