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May 7, 2014

Schrock rocks in return to lineup

Entering Wednesday night's nonconference tilt against Wofford, Max Schrock owned a .239 batting average, lowest among the regulars.

He had also been sidelined since April 16 with a painful lower back injury that limited his mobility and kept him from swinging the bat pain-free.

In spite of his modest batting average, USC head coach Chad Holbrook contends South Carolina is a different - and better - hitting team with Schrock, who was 2-for-5 with two RBI in USC's 15-1 trouncing of the Terriers, in the lineup.

"With Max in the lineup, it's just a different feel and it's a different rhythm to the game offensively," Holbrook said. "It's not that he's tearing the cover off the ball. He's just a threat. He just makes us a different offensive team. Whether he gets a hit or not (doesn't matter). He usually looks at the ball good and he's a good base-runner. It was good to see him get some at-bats tonight."

Schrock now enters a critical time. Holbrook is hopeful Schrock's back won't stiffen up or feel painful enough on Thursday to keep him off the practice fields when USC makes final preparations for this weekend's SEC home series against last-place Missouri.

"I'm hoping like crazy and my fingers will be crossed all night that he'll wake up in the morning and feel well," Holbrook said. "There is no guarantee. This is a (back) injury we're going to have to manage. Playing back-to-back days might be a little bit of struggle. It was good to get him out there. He was in the training room before the game was over getting treatment.

"We'll keep our fingers crossed that he can go on Friday."

Schrock, who has displayed a flair for the dramatic this season, was elated to finally return to the lineup. He demonstrated patience early at the plate, working the count to 2-2 before flying out to right in his first plate appearance.

An inning later, he whacked a pitch to right-center for his third double of the season to score Gene Cone with the fifth tally in a six-run second inning that catapulted USC into a generous lead and it was never threatened thereafter.

"It was good to be back out on the field," Schrock said. "I was just trying to go up to the plate and get some rhythm back and see some pitches. I felt like I did that today. I saw some pitches, took some good swings and some bad ones. That's going to happen when you've been out for a little while.

"Overall, I felt pretty good. No pain, which is good. I'm just looking to progress as we move on."

Greiner welcomed Schrock back with open arms.

"It was good to see Max back in there and get some good swings on some balls," Grayson Greiner said. "Max is a really good hitter. He hasn't had the numbers to maybe show that this year because he's been hurt most of the year. That stinks for us, but he's obviously one of our most talented hitters. Just seeing the name Max Schrock back in the lineup builds some morale on our team. He's one of our best guys and just seeing him back in the lineup was very good to see. Hopefully, he feels good tonight and he can be back in there this weekend for us."

In order to accommodate inserting Schrock back into the lineup for the first time in three weeks, Holbrook dropped Joey Pankake to fifth in the order as a way to protect Greiner batting cleanup. The strategy worked as both Greiner and Pankake homered in Wednesday's walloping of Wofford.

Will Pankake remain in the fifth spot during the Missouri series?

"I moved Joey down to the five hole to give some protection to Grayson," Holbrook said. "I liked the flow of the lineup tonight with Max in the two hole and Joey in the five hole. We'll see if we do that this weekend."


-- The last time USC scored as many as 15 runs in a game was Opening Day against Bucknell when the Gamecocks won, 17-4. Wednesday's victory marked the sixth time this season USC has totaled double-digit runs and hits in the same game. The last time that occurred was March 8 against Brown.

-- Defensively, USC played errorless baseball for the 21st time in 49 games this season.

-- The 12 walks issued by Wofford pitchers was the highest number by an opponent since Bucknell on Opening Day when the Bison walked 13 Gamecocks.

-- USC announced earlier this week that the baseball shuttle location for the Missouri series has been changed to Capital City Stadium on South Assembly Street due to parking concerns over graduation ceremonies at Colonial Life Arena and Vice President Joe Biden's visit to campus on Friday.

-- SEC standings ladder heading into this weekend's slate of conference action:

1. Florida 18-6
2. Ole Miss 15-9
3. Mississippi State 14-10 (Won series vs. Vanderbilt)
4. Vanderbilt 14-10
5. LSU 13-10-1
6. South Carolina 13-11 (Won series vs. Alabama)
7. Alabama 13-11
8. Texas A&M 12-12
9. Arkansas 11-13
10. Tennessee 10-14 (Won series vs. Kentucky)
11. Kentucky 10-14
12. Georgia 9-14-1
13. Auburn 9-15
14. Missouri 6-18.


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