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February 21, 2014

Baseball hosts EKU

EASTERN KENTUCKY (1-3) at NO. 5 SOUTH CAROLINA (4-0)
When: 3 p.m. today, 4 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Carolina Stadium
Tickets: Available at the box office
TV: None
Series: South Carolina leads 1-0.
Last meeting: South Carolina won 11-3 in Columbia on March 21, 1982. Probable starting pitchers
South Carolina -- Game 1: LHP Jordan Montgomery (Jr., 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 5.0 IP, 1 BB, 4 K). Game 2: LHP Jack Wynkoop (So., 1-0, 3.60 ERA, 5.0 IP, 1 BB, 6 K). Sunday: RHP Wil Crowe (Fr., 1-0. 0.00 ERA, 6.1 IP. 1 BB, 5 K).
Eastern Kentucky -- Game 1: RHP Brent Cobb (So., 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 6.1 IP, 3 BB, 3 K). Game 2: LHP Tanner Perkins (Sr., 0-0, 3.00 ERA, 6.0 IP, 0 BB, 4 K). Sunday: RHP Myles Scott (Sr., 0-1, 15.00 ERA, 3.0 IP, 3 BB, 3 K)
Notes: South Carolina has not allowed a run in 24 consecutive innings The Colonels of Eastern Kentucky enter the weekend with a 1-3 record and made it to the championship round of the 2013 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament before they were knocked off by No. 1 seed Tennessee Tech EKU returns 19 letterwinners from last year including six position starters Head coach Jason Stein is in his sixth season at the helm of the program Senior catcher Sean Hagen was 2013 All-Ohio Valley Conference and last year was named to the Johnny Bench Award Watch List Eastern Kentucky opened the season going 1-2 in a series at Alabama State and fell in midweek play on Wednesday in a 13-1 loss at seventh ranked Louisville All three projected starting pitchers are seniors including right-hander Brent Cobb, who will get the ball on Friday. Cobb won his first game last week with 6.1 scoreless innings in a 8-2 win over Alabama State.

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In four games, he has a team-leading four doubles and leads the team in RBI with eight. He's the only Gamecock to hit safely in all four contests, and he's second on the team in batting average at .467, more than .100 points ahead of the two players tied for third at .357.

Those numbers don't belong to preseason All-Americans Joey Pankake or Grayson Greiner, nor do they belong to hot-swinging Kyle Martin, 2013 freshman All-American Max Schrock or Tanner English.

Instead, they belong to the player head coach Chad Holbrook has called his "silent assassin," junior right-fielder Connor Bright.

"He might be our most improved player," Holbrook said of Bright. "He's a hard worker, low-maintenance guy. He works his tail off, keeps his mouth shut and plays. He's awfully fun to coach because of those things.

"He does the right things off the field and has the utmost respect of all his teammates. H might not only be our most improved players, he might be one of our better players."

Bright, who hit .288 last season with 11 doubles, 4 home runs and 22 RBI, is on pace to shatter all those marks perhaps before conference play even begins. He said a more patient approach has benefited him this season. Last season Bright had just four walks to 32 strikeouts, something attributable to his aggressiveness at the plate.

"I like to swing the bat, especially early in the count," Bright admitted.

Slowing down his approach and employing patience so far this season, Bright said, has paid off - Bright already has as many walks - four - in four games as he did in 2013 and has only struck out twice.

"That's something I've worked on, my plate approach," Bright said. "It's something I'm still going to work on.

"(The walks were) something coach (Holbrook) and I talked about in the offseason. I'm going to keep working at it, and it's rewarded me so far."

Another confidence-builder for Bright is that he's the Gamecocks' everyday right fielder this year after shuffling around in the outfield and infield last season.

"It's always good to know that you have a definite spot in this lineup," Bright said. "This is a great program to play for, and to have the satisfaction of knowing you're in right field and have it locked down, which I haven't had the last couple of years.

"I've sort of jumped different places. I didn't mind it; I liked being a utility guy and playing different positions, but definitely having a role on the team has helped out a lot this year."

For Holbrook, having a hitter blossoming in the way Bright is only increases his already potent lineup's effectiveness.

"I love hitting him down in the six-, seven-hole because after you get through the middle, the pitcher might take a deep breath and not realize (he's) there at the bottom of the lineup and he might get some pitches to hit," Holbrook said. "He's been so consistent, I've been wrestling with putting him up in the middle of the lineup. I have the utmost confidence in him. He's a veteran. He's a good baseball player.

"He's quiet, but at the same time he gets some big hits for us. If the game's on the line, I don't know if I'd rather have anybody up at the plate but Connor Bright.

Bright admits his place in the order presents the team with an advantage and is something he enjoys.

"I like hitting low in the lineup," Bright said. "I did it a lot last year as well. It seems like I get a lot of pitches to hit."

Bright also admits he likes his role of silent assassin.

"Under the radar, that's sort of something that's I've been labeled as, which is a good thing, I think," Bright said. "I like being under the radar, flying under the radar, and it fits my personality."

WHAT TO WATCH: Right now, no one is hotter than Kyle Martin. He leads the team in hitting with an incredible .692 batting average and has been impossible to keep off base. He has an uncanny knack for getting RBIs (he's tied with Grayson Greiner for second on the team with 7) and his cool approach at the plate ensures he's consistent in his results, which he has been since fall practice. He's a terrific defender at first, which is why the coaches loved him so much in the first place and why he earned a starting spot late last year to replace LB Dantzler, who was struggling defensively. Martin went on to a sensational postseason last year and has done nothing but continue his amazing ways since then.

Next up: USC hosts Eastern Kentucky again tomorrow at 4 p.m.



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