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April 2, 2014

Diamond Extra: App. State

Chad Holbrook can't say enough good things about Grayson Greiner, and very little of it has to do with his game-winning hit in the ninth inning that pushed No. 2 South Carolina past Appalachian State on Tuesday.

"He's a special player, and not just because of what happened Saturday against Tennessee and not because of what happened today," Holbrook said. "The kid is one of the best players in college baseball, and if he's not the front-runner for the Johnny Bench Award, I don't know who is. If he's not a first-team All-American, I don't know who is."

Holbrook said what makes Greiner even more special than his hitting - and he's second on the team with a .363 average and leads USC in RBI with 30 (10 more than Connor Bright with 20) - is his knowledge of the game itself.

"The kid is a special, special player, and it's really has not so much to do with his statistics," Holbrook said. "It's what goes on in the dugout and his cerebral knowledge of the game. He's way advanced beyond his years in his knowledge of the game of baseball.

"Our coaches learn from Grayson. Usually we try to help our players, that player helps us, and I mean that. I'm lucky to be able to be beside him and share a dugout with him."

All that being said, Holbrook still doesn't know why Appalachian State pitched to Greiner.

"I was surprised they gave him a pitch to hit," Holbrook said. "I was trying to pump up (Marcus) Mooney on deck. 'Win the game, Marcus! Win the game, Marcus! Let's go! Get Ready!' in my best Ray Tanner impression. I was sure they weren't going to give him a pitch to hit. I was sure that they were going to throw everything off the plate and get him to chase.

"Sometimes when you throw a baseball in there it'll slip out of your hand a little bit, and it hanged up right up there for him."

Greiner's teammate Joey Pankake had no concern about the outcome once Greiner stepped to the plate.

"I saw when he went up to the plate I started untying my cleats and packing my stuff up," Pankake joked. "I had faith in Gary (nickname)

"I was surprised they didn't walk him, the way he's been hitting lately, I wouldn't want to pitch to him. He got it done."

Not only has he been getting it done for a while now, he has the chance to continue to do so for a long time to come.

"He's a special player," Holbrook said. "I've had the chance to coach some Major League catchers in my 20 years coaching baseball, and there's one still in the big leagues now.

"Grayson Greiner is as good as I've ever coached. He's represented his university and this baseball program in a special way. It's been really neat to watch. He's locked in."

YOUNG GUNS SHINE: Holbrook said he was impressed with the way relievers Josh Reagan, Taylor Widener and Vince Fiori kept ASU at bay in relief of a solid Evan Beal.

"These young guys, that was one of the first times where Reagan and Widener come in in a spot where it was a pitch here, a pitch there, we win or lose the game," Holbrook said. "It was a little pressure on those guys.

"I thought Widener really let some fastballs go. In that situation where they had a runner in scoring position and he ended up walking the kid, he pitched some really good pitches against that kid. I was happy to see him compete like he did.

"And Vince, Vince was very clean. It was maybe one of the best outings under prssure since he's been here and Reagan got us some outs, too."

BEAL BATTLING: Holbrook credited pitching coach Jerry Meyers with Beal's success so far in two outings in which Beal has combined to throw 9.1 innings, allowing two hits and no runs while striking out six and walking one.

"Coach Meyers is calling a little bit of a different game with Evan," Holbrook said. "He's going after hitters even in 0-2 counts. He's not wasting pitches. I think that's been really good for Evan. He's not worried about making a mistake with two strikes, he's trusting his stuff.

"I think that's helped Evan have some success."

TOO MANY CLOSE CALLS? Holbrook said he was asked recently whether or not he was using up all his comebacks too early in the year as his team has found ways to come from behind to tie or win in extra innings or the last at-bat.

"I had some people call me today and say, 'Hey, you better save some of those,'" Holbrook said. "I don't know how many you get of those in a year. You usually don't have as many as we've had.

"Our kids are resilient and they think they're going to win. I don't really know what to say about it other than I know that we can't come from behind every game and have success. I know that we can't be asked to score two and three runs in the ninth inning and try to win games. That's not going to work. We're going to have a disappointing second half if we try to play that way."

OFFENSE IN SLOW MOTION: Though Greiner's ninth-inning heroics sent everyone happy, lost in the positive emotion is the fact that the Gamecocks managed just one run on eight hits before the ninth inning against a Southern Conference team coming in allowing four-plus runs a game. "We have to get some guys swinging the bat a little better before I get to feeling a little bit better about our team," Holbrook said. "We've gotta get Kyle Martin being a threat again. We've gotta get Connor (Bright) to be a little more consistent. We've got to get Tanner (English) hitting the ball on the ground. We've got to get Max Schrock swinging the bat. He's been scuffling big-time."

"As we sit up here, I feel good about our record, I feel good about where we are and good about the character of our team. I feel good about our chemistry. They like each other. They're close. They like playing together. I feel good about those things. But there's things I don't feel good about, either, and we're going to have to continue improving on those things. We're going to have a hard time scoring if our guys we count on to swing the bat don't swing the bat in league play. We're going to struggle scoring, and I think you're seeing a little bit of that right now."

STREAK CONTINUES, PT. 1: Joey Pankake extended his team-high hitting streak to 16 games with a first-inning single. He finished the game 2-for-3.

STREAK CONTINUES, PT. 2: With Tuesday's win, USC ran its non-conference winning streak at home to 34 games dating back to a 3-2 loss to Liberty on Feb. 17, 2013. The Gamecocks are 19-0 in non-conference games so far this season, including 1-0 on the road and 1-0 at a neutral site (both against Clemson).

MARCH MADNESS: USC completed its March schedule going 16-3. USC was 8-0 in February and is now 1-0 in April. With the regular season halfway done, Holbrook said he's pleased with the results overall.

"I told the guys, we're halfway through our 56-game regular season schedule and we're 25-3, so I can't sit up here and complain too much," Holbrook said. "They've done a really, really good job."

LEADOFF SETTLED?: For the first half of the season, Holbrook has used a revolving list of players at the leadoff position. He's used Marcus Mooney 15 times, Elliott Caldwell five times, Tanner English four times, Max Schrock twice and Connor Bright once coming into Tuesday's game.

On Sunday against Tennessee, Caldwell got the start against the Volunteers, going 2-for-4 with 2 RBI and a walk in an 8-0 win, and against the Mountaineers on Tuesday he was 1-for-3 with a walk. USC is 6-0 in Caldwell's six starts, and in three games against Tennessee, Caldwell hit .462 (6-for-13).

For Holbrook, Caldwell's numbers are enough to show him what he needs to do the rest of the way.

"We've got to get Elliott comfortable being a leadoff guy," Holbrook said. "I think I'm going to settle in on that deal."

UP NEXT: The Gamecocks travel to Arkansas for a three-game SEC series with the Razorbacks beginning Thursday. First pitch for the opener is set for 8 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.

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