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February 23, 2014

Diamond Extra: A Bright Spot



Overshadowed by the craze of South Carolina's five consecutive shutouts and 51 consecutive innings without surrendering a run is one player who is putting together a streak of his own. Junior right fielder Connor Bright has consistently produced at the plate for the Gamecocks this season, reaching base in all seven of South Carolina's games.

Bright batted 3-4 with two RBI and a run scored to help South Carolina drum Eastern Kentucky 6-0 Sunday afternoon. The effort capped a 5-12, three-RBI weekend series for the Mt. Pleasant, S.C., native.

Bright, who emerged as an everyday starter around the midway point of last season, is batting .444, second on the team only to junior first baseman Kyle Martin (.500). He also ranks first on the team with 11 RBI and sits at a tie for first on the team with 12 hits.

"I've been comfortable and I've been working on it in the offseason," said Bright. "Everything I'm doing right now is clicking, which is great."

SEDDON IMPRESSES. If Joel Seddon hadn't already cemented himself as South Carolina's closer, his performance Sunday would have gone a long way toward earning him the role.

The junior right-hander entered the game in the ninth inning, inheriting a bases-loaded, one-out jam that seemed primed to snap South Carolina's streaks of consecutive shutouts and innings without surrendering a run.

But tasked with keeping those streaks alive - and with staving off what would have been a disastrous comeback - Seddon kept his cool. He fanned EKU leadoff man Justin Cessna in three pitches before getting Doug Teegarden to ground out to end the game.

USC head coach Chad Holbrook was pleased to see Seddon's composure in his first pressure scenario of the season.

"That's why I wanted to put Joel in there with the bases loaded, because that's coming," Holbrook said. "I wanted him to experience that out there with the bases loaded.

"Shoot, the tying run was a couple of hitters away. I didn't feel that great over there. I didn't think the game was over by any stretch, but I also wanted him to experience that because this is a new role for him."

Though Seddon made just 11 appearances -- mostly as a middle reliever -- last season, Holbrook is growing more confident that the St. Clair, Mich., native has the stuff he needs to be a big-time closer.

"Joel, he's got all of his pitches going," Holbrook said. "He can neutralize lefties with his changeup, and he's got enough giddy-up too to make that 89-91 look even harder than that because his off-speed pitches are pretty good."


CALDWELL BENCHED. Junior outfielder Elliott Caldwell is fighting for a starting job in South Carolina's lineup, but didn't do himself any favors on the basepaths Sunday.

Caldwell got the start in the final game of the weekend series, but was pulled in the bottom of the fourth inning after getting caught in a pickle between first and second base.

Caldwell stroked a single into left-center, but tried to stretch it into a double. EKU got the ball in quicker than Caldwell must have expected, and he pumped the brakes and tried to return to first. By the time he got to the dugout, his day was done.

Holbrook said he was going to sub in Mooney for Caldwell in the sixth inning if the Gamecocks were ahead anyway, but that Caldwell "made my decision a little easier, a little quicker."

"Elliott's a great kid, probably one of the best kids we have on in our locker room," Holbrook said. "He made a mistake, but that's just a mistake that you can't make with nobody out.

"With two outs, I can kind of see it, but with no outs leading off the inning and he's put a great swing on it, you can't run yourself out of the game right there."

Holbrook added that Caldwell's mistake won't keep him out of the lineup for long.

"I think he'll chalk it up as a learning experience," Holbrook said. "He'll be back in there because he's a threat offensively. He can run. He's a threat, and I'm glad to see him having some success."

WEB GEMS. Max Schrock and Marcus Mooney made two impressive plays on the defensive end.

In the top of the third inning, EKU right fielder T.J. Alas belted a hard grounder into the gap between first and second base. But Schrock ranged over to his left toward the fringe of the outfield, scooped the grounder, spun to his left and fired to Kyle Martin at first base. The play preserved freshman Wil Crowe's hitless streak, which continued until the fourth inning.

In the seventh, it was Mooney's time to shine. EKU first baseman Ben Fisher slapped a hard grounder up the middle, but Mooney dove to his left and corralled it, bobbling it for a second before springing up and slinging it to first for the out.

"That was a special play," said Holbrook, whose defense owns a .982 fielding percentage, up from .970 last season.





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