FURMAN (5-1) at NO. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA (5-1)
When: 4 p.m. today
Where: Carolina Stadium, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
Probable starting pitchers: Furman - LHP Nate Smith (0-0, 4.22 ERA). South Carolina -- LHP Jack Wynkoop (0-0, 0.00)
Notes: South Carolina plays its first midweek game of the season. … The Gamecocks lead the all-time series 108-53-2 and have won the last two. … The Paladins are expected to unveil new road uniforms today while USC may also wear its new uniforms. … Gloomy skies will make it three straight weeks where the Gamecocks have to battle the weather. … Wynkoop will make his first collegiate start after battling for a weekend rotation role in the preseason. He was edged by Nolan Belcher for the Sunday spot. … Wynkoop gave up an unearned run and a walk in his debut against Liberty on Feb. 17. … It will be Furman's first road game of the season, although it has played four games at Fluor Field, which is technically a neutral site.
Next up: USC plays the first of a three-game series against Clemson at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at Clemson.
Over the course of 56 regular-season games, even tough guys get banged up. It's hard, extremely hard, for a position player not to miss a game or two with some kind of ailment. Chad Holbrook knew that he'd have to deal with it sooner or later in his first season as No. 7 South Carolina's coach.
Shortstop Joey Pankake is unlikely to play today after he pulled a hip flexor muscle in the Gamecocks' weekend sweep of Albany, which deprives USC of its defensive "quarterback" and its third hitter. The sophomore, hitting .353 with four RBIs since being moved to the third spot five games ago, should be ready for this weekend's rivalry series with Clemson, but is sitting out today mostly as a precaution.
With center fielder Tanner English already playing hurt - English broke his nose in the season-opening series and when learning that he could miss the Albany and Clemson weekends if he had surgery, decided to put it off until after the season - the Gamecocks are already wounded as they begin to get their feet under them. Pankake, English and catcher Grayson Greiner were being counted on to lead the Gamecocks' defense, as the "solid up the middle" axiom usually translates to winning, but now one is out and one is playing with a nose that's slightly off-center.
Everything should be fine in a few days, as English has said it's more a matter of discomfort than anything else. Pankake should be ready for Clemson, and his deep desire to play could help that - an Easley native, Pankake won't want to miss playing in front of the home folks, and the first two games are in Clemson and Greenville. "I'll be shocked if he plays (today) and I'm very hopeful he'll be ready for the weekend," Holbrook said.
Until then, USC will have to make do. Freshman DC Arendas will most likely play in Pankake's spot today when Furman visits, which takes care of the defense. Arendas has flashed a wonderful glove when he's played.
The offense, though will have to adjust. USC (5-1) was just beginning to find a groove with new leadoff hitter Graham Saiko tearing the cover off the ball, freshman Max Schrock hitting second, Pankake third and SEC Player of the Week LB Dantzler wielding a wrecking stick at cleanup. It's doubtful that Arendas will take Pankake's spot in the batting order - although he's only had five at-bats, he has yet to get a hit.
But Holbrook has several options. Chase Vergason homered against Albany and is hitting well, while Connor Bright could always come in and take some swings. With Furman starting left-hander Nate Smith on the mound, Erik Payne should start in some capacity, perhaps at designated hitter or in the field if Holbrook really wants to shake things up.