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March 11, 2014

Baseball preview: Furman

FURMAN (6-9) at NO. 1 SOUTH CAROLINA (15-0)

When: 7 p.m.
Where: Carolina Stadium
Tickets: Available at the box office
TV: None
Series: South Carolina leads 109-54-2.
Last meeting: Furman won 6-5 in Greenville on April 3, 2013.
Probable starting pitchers
South Carolina RHP Taylor Widener (Fr., 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 4.0 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 6 K). Furman LHP Billy Greenfield (Fr., 1-0, 5.40 ERA, 10 IP, 5 BB, 6 K)
Notes: Fans are encouraged to arrive early at 6:50 p.m. as the Gamecocks will honor USC student Martha Childress before the contest in a pregame ceremony. First pitch is 7 p.m. The first hour of the game will be on 1320 AM with the game being joined in progress at 8 p.m. on the Gamecock IMG Network including flagship station 107.5 FM, "The Game." ... Joey Pankake (hamstring) and Max Schrock (ankle) will not play tonight, but both are expected back Friday for Ole Miss.

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Look out America, there's a new No. 1.

For the first time under head coach Chad Holbrook, the Gamecocks are ranked No. 1 in the country by Baseball America. Unbeaten at 15-0, South Carolina puts its freshly minted crown on the line tonight against a team in Furman that beat the Gamecocks last year and again in 2011, the last year South Carolina won the national championship.

"I know they'll play their rear ends off against us and it'll be a tight game," Holbrook said. "It always is."

"They give us their best shot every time we play them. They beat us last year in Greenville, it was a tight game here. They have some guys who are older. They have some boys that can pop the ball out of the park."

"It's a big game for them and they'll play very, very hard."

Holbrook said besides the game, he's looking forward to welcoming USC student Martha Childress to the stadium and her family. Childress was paralyzed last year by a stray bullet in Five Points while waiting for a cab.

"I'm exceptionally excited to be able to welcome Martha Childress and her family here," Holbrook said. "I'm going to get more enjoyment out of that than probably anything else, and I mean that sincerely.

"I'm lucky that she gets to inspire our team. She's already inspired our state and our university. Our players will get a first-hand look of how fortunate they are and she'll inspire us. She's a big Gamecock fan. I think meeting her and her family will do a lot for our team."

Holbrook said the team's lofty ranking is something that's nice, but not anything to dwell on. "I hope it makes the guys feel good about themselves. It should get us some confidence going, but I'm not getting caught up in the fact that we're 15 and 0.

"We've got a long way to go and we've got to get a lot better. We're obviously not going to go undefeated. We're going to lose our fair share of games. But I like how difficult our team is making it on the opponent to score. I like that trait of our team. When we're healthy, we're pretty darn good offensively. So, I like our team."

Still, Holbrook said his team is no juggernaut and will have to earn everything it gets along the way, especially when SEC play begins Friday against Ole Miss.

"We're not bulletproof," Holbrook said. "We're not foolproof. We're not some machine. That's not who we are. We're going to have to fight, scratch and claw for every win we get in league play.

"We're not going to out-talent people, we're not going to just show up and win games. We're going to have to out-execute, outplay and out-hustle, out-compete, all those things, for us to have a good year in the SEC. We're not going to put the lineup out there and say, 'Hey, we're better than our opponent. That's not how it's going to be.

"We've played 15 and we've won them. But we've played some teams that we're more gifted than, more talented than. I'm excited people think we're pretty good, but that doesn't matter once we get to SEC play."

WHAT TO WATCH: Taylor Widener takes the mound tonight to make his first career start. So far he's been effective at times with a fastball in the low to mid 90s he's able to blow by people. How well he can set that fastball up with his other pitches will be key to determining his success, but there's a reason he's starting as a freshman on the No. 1 team in the country.



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