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February 11, 2014

Holbrook talks weather, tabs Crowe



Winter storms in mid-February are rare in South Carolina, but the freezing rain, ice and possible snow expected to blanket the Columbia area today and Wednesday will likely impact the Gamecocks' preparations for the season-opening series against Bucknell starting Friday at 3 p.m. at Carolina Stadium.

USC enjoys some of the best indoor facilities in the country, and it should be utilized to the fullest over the next two or three days.

"We can get inside," USC coach Chad Holbrook said Monday night on the "Inside the Roost" program. "We're lucky to have some really good facilities around here. So, we can get our work in. I'm not really worried about that."

The inclement weather forced Holbrook to change USC's workout schedule. Usually, Monday is the mandatory day off, but the Gamecocks worked out yesterday, so the midweek practice plans will change.

"We practiced (Monday) and had a great workout," Holbrook said. "I look at it (right now) that we're a little ahead of schedule. Our guys will get into the weight room tomorrow, at least. We'll probably hit inside in the cages and take Wednesday off because we have to have at least one off day per week. Maybe by Thursday we can get back out onto the field."

The tarp is on the Carolina Stadium field and should stay there for the next two days until Thursday afternoon when USC hopes to get an outdoor workout in before battling Bucknell on Friday.

"The field is covered. I think they can rid of that ice on Thursday and get us out on the field," Holbrook said. "Hopefully, Bucknell can get down here with no problem and we can have a nice three-game series."

First pitch for Friday's season opener is set for 3 p.m., with Saturday's game getting underway at 1:30 p.m. and Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

Holbrook said he plans to use the first seven games of the season (three vs. Bucknell, one vs. Presbyterian and three vs. Eastern Kentucky) "to continue to evaluate some people" leading up to the three-game showdown against Clemson on Feb. 28-March 2.

One position without a clear leader is shortstop where Marcus Mooney and D.C. Arendas have been battling throughout preseason camp. Holbrook, though, is figuring out ways to get players into the lineup at the same time. When that happens, Arendas should slide over to third while Joey Pankake moves to left.

"They've both won the job and they've both played very well," Holbrook said. "D.C. and Marcus have been terrific. They've swung the bat well, put the ball into play and done what we've asked them to do. They both deserve to play. Luckily, we have some versatile guys that we can move around a little bit and get those guys into the lineup at the same time.

"D.C. could move over to third. I can move Joey Pankake to left field because he's athletic and can run the ball down out there. It's a difficult call because there's about 11 guys I want to start on Friday, but we can't put 11 on the field."

Freshman Taylor Widener of South Aiken has emerged as perhaps the most pleasant surprise exiting preseason camp. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder has displayed an exceptional presence at the plate, including Sunday in the final scrimmage of camp when he blasted a grand slam and collected three hits.

"He is a very mature and very physical kid," Holbrook said. "He has a presence about him. He walks around and you get the vibes that the kid thinks he is pretty good. And he is. He has a big league presence about him. He is a big, strong left-handed hitter that can mishit a ball and still hit it out of our park. He probably has as much raw power as anybody on our team."

Widener also pitches and has showcased the power arm that produced a 1.52 ERA in 64.1 innings pitched as a senior at South Aiken in 2013.

"He has a good slider," Holbrook said. "He is continuing to develop on the mound. He has a bright future here in a Gamecock uniform. He is going to be a fan favorite."

When preseason camp opened on Jan. 24, lefthanders Jordan Montgomery and Jack Wynkoop were solidified as the top two starters in the weekend rotation. However, the identity of the Sunday starter was unknown.

After a series of solid outings in the scrimmages, freshman righty Wil Crowe will make his first career start against Bucknell in the series finale.

"I've had a number of tough decisions to make, but that wasn't one of them," Holbrook said. "Will has been very impressive since he's stepped on campus. He's a big, strong physical kid with a power arm. Good breaking ball, good changeup. He's a four-pitch guy. He has a great mentality about him. He always wants the ball with the game on the line."

DM


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