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March 9, 2014

Diamond Extra: First starts for Pike, Gore

Freshmen Weber Pike and Jordan Gore made their first career starts for South Carolina in Sunday's series finale against Brown, a tense 1-0 victory at Carolina Stadium.

Pike, one of USC's top young hitters, went 2-for-3 as the designated hitter with a pair of singles in the third and sixth innings, while Gore was a hard luck 0-for-3 (two flyouts and liner right at the Brown second baseman) even though he had good swings and collected two assists at second base.

Pike and Gore were called into duty because of injuries to regulars Max Schrock and Joey Pankake.

"Jordan was 0-for-3, but hit two balls on the nose," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "It was good to see a freshman stand up there and put some good swings on it. He didn't have anything to show for it, but that's baseball. This is a game of failure. You have to try to handle the failure. Not having Max or Joey in there, we're a little different offensive team."

Pike, a former Beaufort High standout, first impressed Holbrook in the fall with his outstanding hitting skills and continued to swing the bat well during preseason camp. But the redshirt freshman had just five at-bats in the first 14 games.

"Weber deserved to play," Holbrook said. "He gives you a good at-bat. He has great hand-eye coordination and he is very difficult to strike out. If you watch him take batting practice every day and hit against our pitchers, you'd probably wonder why he isn't DHing every day. He has a knack for squaring the ball up. He is unorthodox, but he has a knack for hitting the ball hard."

Pike has five hits (all singles) is his first eight at-bats, a .625 average, with two RBI and five total bases.

"We try to throw him pitches (in BP) that no way he can hit and he hits them anyway," Holbrook said. "He has incredible hand-eye coordination. I like the fact I have him on the bench to pinch-hit when we have a runner in scoring position or a runner at third base. He'll get some big RBIs for us as we proceed through the year because he'll move the ball (and not strike out)."

Gore, a Conway High graduate, was handed his first career start at second instead of shifting Connor Bright there and installing freshman Gene Cone in right, Holbrook said.

"Connor hadn't gotten many ground balls lately and you can win or lose a game in the infield," Holbrook said. "I wanted to go with the guy that had been getting a lot more work there."

WHEN WILL SCHROCK AND PANKAKE RETURN?: Pankake sat out Sunday's game after tweaking a hamstring during Saturday's doubleheader, while Schrock missed his third straight game due to an ankle injury suffered last Wednesday against Stetson. Will either player be ready for the Ole Miss series, which starts Friday night at Carolina Stadium?

"We'll take Max's cast off (Monday) and we'll know how he is," Holbrook said. "They wanted that cast on for three days with nothing going on in order to let it rest and calm down. We'll know how severe it is when he takes the cast off and moves around. I don't think he'll play Tuesday (vs. Furman). I'd be shocked if he played Tuesday. We're just trying to get him back for Friday."

Ditto for Pankake, who missed his first game of the season on Sunday.

"I don't want to rush a hamstring back," Holbrook said. "Those hamstrings can stay with you for a long time. I'd rather give him this week to stay off his feet. Hopefully, he'll be ready to have a good workout Wednesday or Thursday and be ready to play Friday. I'm hopeful we'll get them both back Friday for Ole Miss. We'll need them."

CALDWELL ALMOST PULLED: Elliott Caldwell rebounded from a poor first at-bat when he suffered a mental lapse at the plate after being given the hit-and run sign by plating the only run with a fourth-inning sacrifice fly. Holbrook acknowledged afterwards Caldwell was nearly pulled from the game after his second inning miscue that resulted in Kyle Martin being thrown out at second base.

"I came close to taking him out of the game, but that was a great at-bat to get the game-winning sacrifice fly," Holbrook said. "I guess his brain locked up there on the hit-and-run. That was disappointing because he can hit ground balls to the four hole in his sleep. We were trying to get some energy going. But he chose not to protect his teammate there and that's a no-no when I put the hit-and-run on."

Holbrook, who said he is 'not a huge fan of the hit-and-run,' except for limited circumstances throughout the course of a game, was pleased how Caldwell responded to the breakdown later in the game.

"He didn't execute the hit-and-run there, and we didn't as a team, and almost came back to get us," Holbrook said. "That being said, he battled and stayed in there and kept his wits after we got on him pretty good and had a big at-bat to help us win the game."


-- Marcus Mooney extended his hitting streak to nine games by lining a single to right-center in the bottom of the first.

-- After scoring five runs in Saturday's doubleheader, Grayson Greiner added another run scored on Sunday, giving him a team-high 18 runs in 15 games

-- Holbrook said USC will honor freshman student Martha Childress, the innocent victim of a senseless shooting in Five Points, before Tuesday's home game.

-- Holbrook on USC getting the leadoff batter on base in each of the first four innings yet only scoring one run: "You have to try to keep your composure in those situations. Baseball is a frustrating game. You're not going to capitalize on all of your opportunities. It's too difficult. I was frustrated, but our players weren't."


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