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March 14, 2014

Series Preview: USC-Ole Miss

No. 21 OLE MISS (16-2) at No. 1 SOUTH CAROLINA (16-0)
When: 7 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Carolina Stadium
Tickets: Available at the box office
TV: Streamed on ESPN3 Friday and Saturday
Series: South Carolina leads 30-21
Last meeting: Ole Miss won 7-6 in Oxford on May 8, 2011
Probable starting pitchers
South Carolina -- Game 1: LHP Jordan Montgomery (Jr., 3-0, 1.99 ERA, 22.2 IP, 19 H, 8 BB, 25 K); Game 2 - LHP Jack Wynkoop (So., 4-0, 1.37 ERA, 26.1 IP, 22 H, 3 BB, 24 K); Game 3 - RHP Wil Crowe (Fr., 3-0. 0.99 ERA, 27.1 IP, 16 H, 3 BB, 21 K).
Ole Miss -- Game 1: Chris Ellis (Jr. RHP). Game 2: Christian Trent (So. RHP). Game 3: Sam Smith Jr. (Jr. RHP).

The numbers compiled by Friday night's starting pitchers - Jordan Montgomery of South Carolina and Chris Ellis of Ole Miss - in the opening SEC series for both teams show how far the pendulum has swung towards the hurlers in college baseball.

Fifteen to 20 years ago, Gorilla Baseball dominated the domain and most teams simply sought to outmuscle the opponent with games often resembling home run derby with football scores the norm rather than the exception.

Not anymore.

Five times this season top-ranked USC has scored four or fewer runs. It has won all five. The Gamecocks enter this weekend's three-game SEC series against Ole Miss with a staff ERA of 1.12 and are currently working on a stretch of four straight shutouts and 42 scoreless innings, three weeks after posting a school record five straight whitewashings.

"Throwing strikes and working ahead in the count is what we've done," Holbrook said. "We don't blow you away with crazy velocity. Our guys don't run it up there 95 miles an hour. Our guys change speeds, have good breaking balls and can locate their off-speed pitches in fastball counts. They have the ability to pitch backwards, which is very difficult for a college hitter to handle. And we play great defense behind our pitchers."

The Rebels, though, aren't far behind with a team ERA of 1.88 in 168 innings. Both teams have allowed well under one hit per inning.

Montgomery has enjoyed a splendid start to his junior season, but Ellis has surpassed him by not allowing an earned run in 27.2 innings pitched so far this season with 20 strikeouts and 10 walks. He has allowed just one unearned run in four starts.

"We have two great pitchers going at each other to start things off tomorrow night," Holbrook said.

Even more remarkable, Ellis has not yielded a single extra base hit with all 12 hits allowed being singles. Opponents are batting just .138 against him, 94 points lower than Montgomery's .232 OBA.

"Obviously, we have our work cut out for us," Holbrook said. "We're just going to try to piecemeal and scratch against him. He hasn't given up anything. It will be a great challenge for us. At the same time, we have some competitive guys that have faced some really good pitchers during their careers here. Hopefully, we can put a little pressure on him and do some good things early in the game and get our crowd involved and create some momentum. But he could easily stuff us with his arm. His stats are scary."

One of the more experienced teams in the SEC this year with seven of nine projected starters junior or seniors, Ole Miss ranks second in the SEC with a team batting average of .323. The Rebels swept Stetson (a common opponent) on the road and won all three games against UCF and Arkansas-Little Rock at home. The Rebels carry a five-game winning streak into Carolina Stadium, where they haven't played since 2010.

"The teeth of our schedule is upon us," Holbrook said. "Ole Miss has a very good team. They're deep, balanced and old. The last time we played them in 2011, some of those guys started against us and they beat us in Oxford. They have some experience. They play great defense. Ole Miss is as good of a team we'll play all year long.

"They're going to match us. They're every bit as talented as we are, they're every bit as old as we are and they're every bit as good as we are. Hopefully, the difference is we're playing at home."

In many ways, USC and Ole Miss are mirror images. Both teams rely on magnificent pitching, airtight defense and enough hitting to score enough runs to win most or all of their games. The fielding percentages of both teams hovers about .980 with a combined 24 errors in 34 games.

"We might be a lot alike," Holbrook said. "They rely on their pitching staff, but they've swung the bats pretty well too. They've pitched and played defense all year. And we've pitched and played defense all year. We've put a lot of pressure on our opponents to score runs with the way we've pitched and played defense.

"Two evenly matched teams, the way I see it, and two teams that have been around the block with some older guys in there. It will come down to what most SEC games come down to - who executes better, who plays better defense and who makes the big pitch when the game is on the line."


-- Holbrook said third baseman/left fielder Joey Pankake (2nd on team with 18 runs scored) should be ready to play Friday night, but second baseman Max Schrock was '50-50 at best' for Friday. If Schrock is unable to go, Holbrook will likely insert sophomore D.C. Arendas or freshman Jordan Gore into the lineup at second base. Holbrook said Schrock can swing a bat, but his lateral movement, a vital necessity for any second baseman, is not up to par. Except for Schrock, the Gamecocks are healthy, Holbrook said.

-- The USC bullpen has not allowed a run in 47.2 IP dating back to the first game of the season. "Our pitching staff is doing pretty well, We're very deep," USC closer Joel Seddon said. "We can throw a lot of guys out there. Our young guys, some of the freshmen, have been pitching well too. Our bullpen has been fantastic." Seddon has five saves in eight appearances so far in 2014, putting him on track for nearly 20 saves by the end of the regular season.

-- The current 16-game winning streak marks the best start since 2004 when USC opened with the season with an 18-0 mark.

-- Holbrook defended USC's non-schedule schedule, saying USC is "as prepared as we can be" for the SEC opening series, although he acknowledged USC "hasn't had the hardest strength of schedule by any stretch of the imagination up to this point."

Batting Average: Connor Bright (.424)
At-bats: Connor Bright (59)
Runs: Grayson Greiner (19)
Hits: Connor Bright (25)
Doubles: Connor Bright (9)
Triples: Marcus Mooney & Tanner English (1)
Home Runs: Grayson Greiner, Kyle Martin (3)
RBI: Grayson Greiner (19)
Total Bases: Connor Bright (34)
Slugging Pct: Grayson Greiner (.611)
Walks: Three tied with nine
On-Base Pct: Connor Bright (.478)
Stolen Bases: Three tied with 3.


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