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February 26, 2014

Elite mound matchup opens series



Two of college baseball's best pitchers are expected to square off Friday night for the second straight year in the opener of the emotionally charged South Carolina-Clemson weekend series.

USC lefthander Jordan Montgomery (28 career starts) carries a sparkling 14-2 mark and 2.34 ERA in 165.2 career innings heading into the series opener at Carolina Stadium. Last week, he needed just 89 pitches to blank Eastern Kentucky over seven innings.

Barring a last-minute change, the Sumter native should be opposed by right-hander Daniel Gossett, who is 17-7 in 37 career appearances and has served as the Tigers' Friday night starter since the beginning of last season.

"Jordan Montgomery has experience and he knows what he is trying to do and what he is trying to execute," USC pitching coach Jerry Meyers said Monday on Sportstalk. "We feel very good with him out there in terms of being able to handle all the outside static that comes along with this weekend's games and SEC games.

"Games like this can go either way. You're just trying to put yourself in to position where hopefully you don't make mistakes and give yourself the best chance."

Logic decrees USC's streak of not allowing a run by the opponents for 51 consecutive innings and five complete games will come to a halt at some point during the Clemson series, but when?

Last season, Montgomery spun eight scoreless innings at Clemson before giving way to ace closer Tyler Webb, who fanned all three batters he faced to wrap up USC's 6-0 victory at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

In the same game, Gossett allowed just one run in his first six innings before the Gamecocks broke through in the top of the seventh by scoring three runs, knocking him from the mound.

How long will the scoreless streak last? USC carries a lofty 0.86 team ERA into Friday's series lid lifter. The Gamecocks have allowed just six runs and 40 hits in 63 innings with 70 strikeouts and 15 walks.

"It's been a real good start for us," Meyers said. "We have pitched well at times. Having Grayson Greiner behind the plate is a big part of that along with the rest of our defense. We have played as well defensively as you can play in the first seven games.

"We're trying not to walk people and give ourselves a chance to play defense as much as possible."

Throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters has been a principle reason for USC's mound mastery through the first seven games. Meyers said USC pitchers have the same objective every at-bat - throw strikes on two of the first three pitches.

"First two out of three is what we always talk about," Meyers said. "If that puts us ahead in the count, continue to make quality pitches to put guys away. If they put balls in play, hopefully it's on our pitcher's terms and we're in position to make plays. So far, we have been."

If they do that, the pitchers seize the advantage and based on percentages should get the batter out.

"Up to this point, we have gotten ahead of hitters," Meyers said. "The stats we look at are the ones in the long haul that are usually going to put you in position to be successful. That's getting ahead of hitters and continuing to make quality pitches throughout at-bats. Obviously, we have faced some lineups yet that will do damage. The mistakes we've made we've gotten away with. Our guys know we won't get away with those later on."

Because USC hurlers have consistently thrown a noteworthy percentage of their pitches for strikes early in the season, Meyers expects the Clemson hitters to be aggressive early in counts.

"That's one of the things we try to assess based on scouting reports and past games," Meyers said. "You read hitters. If they're very active early in the count, it puts more emphasis on throwing a quality pitch rather than just throwing it over and trying to get ahead.

"If they're working the count, it gives you a little more leeway to work the plate and get ahead. For the most part, you have to assume they're going to be aggressive early in the count and then read it as the game goes on and make the adjustments."

Following Tuesday afternoon's 4-2 victory over Presbyterian, Clemson carries a .322 team batting average into Friday's series opener in Columbia. Tyler Krieger is off to a red hot start with 12 hits in his first 24 at-bats and a .571 on-base percentage.

"We're not going to assume there is anybody in the lineup you don't have to make quality pitches against," Meyers said. "They're capable of putting up some numbers. Offensively, they've already done it a few times with some double-digit run outputs. There isn't just one or two guys. Anyone in their lineup can do some damage. We have to contain one through nine all the way through their order."

DM


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