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February 24, 2014

Look back, look ahead: Clemson week



South Carolina scored four or fewer runs in three of four games last week, yet won all four contests and remained unbeaten heading into one of the biggest weekends of this or any season.

Four consecutive shutouts by Gamecock hurlers within a span of six days extended the school-record shutout stretch to five full games (previous record was four games in 1972) and 51 innings.

This past weekend's sweep over Eastern Kentucky in which the Gamecocks outscored the Colonels, 12-0, wasn't simply a showcase for USC's starting pitching trio of Jordan Montgomery, Jack Wynkoop and Wil Crowe.

In addition, JUCO transfer Cody Mincey and junior Joel Seddon emerged as a sensational late-inning combination. Appearing in each of the three games, the duo held EKU hitless in a combined 4.2 innings with nine strikeouts (out of 14 outs) and one walk.

Sunday, Mincey quashed an eighth-inning threat by fanning consecutive batters after inheriting a runner on third base. An inning later, Seddon came out of the bullpen with the bases loaded and one out, and calmly recorded the final two outs on a strikeout and grounder to retain the history-making shutout.

Together, Mincey and Seddon have allowed one hit and no runs with 16 strikeouts and one walk over nine appearances encompassing 8.0 innings pitched. Opponents are batting less than .100 against them.

Seddon did not allow a single EKU batter to reach base in any of his three appearances. Mincey enters Clemson week with a team-high five appearances.

"Those guys are throwing well. They're throwing all their pitches for strikes," Holbrook said after Sunday's game. "Cody has that slider going and he has enough giddyup to throw that fastball in. Right now, he's not missing that spot when he throws that fastball in. That's what is making him very effective. Joel has all his pitches going and he can neutralize lefties with his changeup. He has enough giddyup to make that 89-91 look even harder than that because his off-speed pitches are pretty good."

Mincey and Seddon combined to set down 14 of the 15 batters they faced in the EKU series, and registered strikes on 44 of the 57 pitches they threw, a notable strike percentage of 77.2 percent.

"I just have one job and that is to go up there and throw strikes and I have been doing that pretty well," Mincey said. "I had confidence in myself to go out there and do what I have been doing."

USC utilized five different relievers in the three wins over Eastern Kentucky, including all five on Sunday. Hunter Privette (fanned only batter he faced) and Josh Reagan (0.2 IP, 2 hits, 4 BF) saw their only action of the series on Sunday.

"We feel good about our bullpen," Holbrook said. "Like I said, I don't know if we have a bonafide All-American back there, but collectively as a group it can be a special bullpen. Hopefully, it will continue throughout the year. As a group, I feel very comfortable with that bullpen.

"We can match up, we can throw strikes, we can change speeds. When lefties come up there, we feel comfortable going to (Vince) Fiori or Reagan. The righties come up, we have Cody and Joel. But we have some other righties we feel good about like Reed Scott and Hunter Privette. We can match you up."

USC looks to continue its torrid pitching pace when rival Clemson comes to Columbia Friday night to begin a three-games in three different ballparks weekend series. First pitch on Friday night is set for 7 p.m.

Clemson is coming off a three-game sweep over Maine in the Upstate and carries a 5-1 record into Tuesday night's home game against Presbyterian.

"What we've done up to this point won't mean a hill of beans next week," Holbrook said. "It's a rivalry our kids get excited about and want to be a part of. It's one of the reasons kids want to come and play at South Carolina, the atmospheres that will be in the ballparks this weekend."

Even though the quality of the opponent undoubtedly rises this coming weekend, Holbrook says USC's formula for success won't change. Recognizing the new era in college baseball, the Gamecocks are firmly built around pitching and defense.

"Hopefully, we can continue to execute our pitches and our pitching staff can keep us in the game. Our recipe is going to be the same old, same old, day in and day out," Holbrook insisted. "No matter who the opponent is, we can't change who we are just because we're playing a new opponent. Pitch and play defense. We're going to have to do that to have a chance this weekend."

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: USC pitching staff
LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 4-0
OVERALL RECORD: 7-0 (0-0 SEC)
NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 3 in Baseball America, No. 5 in Collegiate Baseball, No. 4 in Perfect Game USA.

LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:
Feb. 18 vs. Presbyterian, W 4-0
Feb. 21 vs. Eastern Kentucky, W 4-0
Feb. 22 vs. Eastern Kentucky, W 2-0
Feb. 23 vs. Eastern Kentucky, W 6-0

THIS WEEK'S SCHEDULE:
Feb. 28 - vs. Clemson, 7 p.m. (FOX Sports South)
March 1 - vs. Clemson, 2 p.m. (at Fluor Field, Greenville)(ABC Columbia)
March 2 - at Clemson, 4 p.m.
(All Times Eastern)

NOTES:

-- USC's pitching staff has compiled an impressive 0.86 ERA after seven games, allowing just six runs on 40 hits in 63.0 innings with 70 strikeouts to 15 walks. Opponents are hitting only .179 against USC, which has not allowed an opponent to reach double-digits in hits in any game this season. "We're keeping our guys' pitch counts pretty low," Holbrook said. "Some young guys are out there getting experience. It's neat. Coach (Jerry) Meyers has done an incredible job with them. He calls every pitch and he calls the right pitches every time. And our kids are executing the pitches he calls."

-- Barring an unexpected decision by Holbrook or USC pitching coach Jerry Meyers, LHP Jordan Montgomery will carry a streak of 33.2 consecutive scoreless innings dating back to last season into Friday night's start against Clemson.

-- After hitting .417 (5-for-12) with three RBI vs. Eastern Kentucky, Connor Bright is now hitting .444 (12-for-27) on the season with a seven game hitting streak. Bright leads USC in doubles (5) and RBI (11) and is tied with Kyle Martin for most hits (12). He has a .516 on-base percentage.

-- LHP Jack Wynkoop has 16 strikeouts in 12.1 IP.

-- Freshman RHP Wil Crowe has 10 strikeouts in a team-high 12.2 innings pitched. Opponents are hitting just .100 against him in two starts.

-- Max Schrock has walked eight times in seven games, a key reason for his eye-opening .469 on-base percentage.

-- With four errors in 254 chances over seven games, USC has a .984 fielding percentage. Two of the four errors proved harmless in Saturday's 2-0 victory over EKU.

-- The only runs allowed by the Gamecocks so far this season are four runs in the final two innings of the 17-4 win over Bucknell in the season opener and a pair of runs by the Bison in the third inning of a 12-2 victory in Game 2.

DM


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