USC set to face a different breed of Tigers

WHAT: Princeton (2-2) at No. 3 South Carolina (10-1);
WHERE: Carolina Stadium, Columbia, SC;
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday; 4 p.m. Saturday; 1:30 p.m. Sunday;
TV/RADIO: Gamecock Radio Network, 107.5 The Game in Columbia for all games (Andy Demetra, Derek Scott and Tommy Moody).
USC -- LHP Michael Roth (Friday), RHP Matt Price (Saturday), RHP Colby Holmes (Sunday); Princeton - RHP Zak Hermans (Friday), RHP Mike Ford (Saturday), RHP Matt Bowman (Sunday).
The story of the first 11 games of the 2012 season for South Carolina has been the solid pitching, and rightly so since the Gamecocks have compiled a 1.70 ERA in 100.1 innings pitched.
However, a parallel story from Wednesday night's 8-1 victory over UNC-Asheville was USC's hitting. Specifically, the Gamecocks' ability to make contact rather than continuously making the long walk back to the dugout from home plate as they have done too often this season.
In the first 10 games, USC hitters struck out 68 times compared to 31 walks, an alarming strikeout-to-walk ratio that prompted a meeting prior to the UNC-Asheville game. In the three games last weekend against Clemson, USC batters fanned 30 times and walked 11 times, nearly a 3-to-1 ratio.
As a result, USC coaches have emphasized in practice this week a more disciplined approach with two strikes, an integral quality of all good hitters.
"It seems like in the past couple of weeks we haven't been doing that enough," USC head coach Ray Tanner said. "That has been our focus. I was glad to see our guys have a better approach offensively (Wednesday). It helped us win the game."
The refreshed approach worked against the Bulldogs as USC had just three strikeouts compared to six walks in the wire-to-wire non-conference victory over UNC-A.
Besides the renewed focus on making contact at the plate, an infield position has again demanded Tanner's attention. But this time it's not second base. Instead, it's shortstop.
Freshman Joey Pankake looked rattled defensively in the three games against Clemson, committing four errors (at least one in every game) and seeing his fielding percentage plummet to .838.
Connor Bright, another true freshman, took the shortstop reins on Wednesday night in his first career start there and played errorless baseball. Tanner suggested Pankake, who had started the first 10 games at shortstop, could end up sharing more playing time if he doesn't resolve his shakiness in the field.
Bright (.308) is also hitting 43 points higher than Pankake (.265), though he has 21 fewer at-bats.
"I have to give Connor a few more opportunities", Tanner said. "He's worked hard, so I think I have to give him some more looks at short. Joey has had some opportunities to play. Now I have to give Connor some chances. Joey has worked hard and played hard and he's tried to do the best he can.
"But it has been a little rough for him in these first 10 games. He hasn't played the kind of defense he's wanted to. We have a few more non-conference games before we open up in the SEC. I'm going to try to give Connor a few more looks out there and see how he handles himself."
USC will throw the same weekend rotation for the final weekend of non-conference play - Michael Roth (1-0, 0.89 ERA in 20.1 IP) starts things on Friday night and will be followed by Matt Price (1-0, 3.77 ERA in 14.1 IP) and Colby Holmes (2-0, 1.26 ERA in 14.1 IP).
Roth (1-0) will be opposed by Princeton's Zak Hermans (1-0, 0.00 ERA in 5.0 IP), who was honored as Ivy League Pitcher of the Week after throwing 5.0 scoreless innings in Princeton's 11-4 season-opening win over Florida Atlantic on March 2. The junior tied a career-high with eight strikeouts, while giving up only two hits in 18 batters faced.
Princeton opened its 2012 season last weekend by splitting a four-game series with Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton, Fla. Senior Sam Mulroy batted .389 (7-for-18) in the four-game series with five runs scored.
LAST MEETING: USC won 11-7 on May 26, 2001 at Columbia (NCAA Tournament);
STREAK: USC has won three games in a row.
C - Grayson Greiner OR Dante Rosenberg
1B - Christian Walker
2B - Chase Vergason
3B - LB Dantzler
SS - Joey Pankake OR Connor Bright
LF - Tanner English
CF - Evan Marzilli
RF - Adam Matthews
DH - Kyle Martin
Mar. 9 v. Princeton, 7 p.m.
Mar. 10 v. Princeton, 4 p.m.
Mar. 11 v. Princeton, 1:30 p.m.
Mar. 13 v. Chas. Southern, 7 p.m.
Mar. 14 v. Appalachian State, 7 p.m.
Batting Average: Christian Walker (.316)
At Bats: Evan Marzilli (45)
Runs: Joey Pankake (9)
Hits: Evan Marzilli (13)
Doubles: Four Players with 3
Triples: Four Players with 1
Home Runs: L.B. Dantzler (3)
Runs Batted In: Christian Walker (13)
Total Bases: L.B. Dantzler (22)
Slugging Percentage: L.B. Dantzler (.524)
Walks: Three with 5.
On Base Percentage: Christian Walker (.435)
Stolen Bases: Evan Marzilli (4)
* The next win for USC will give Tanner his 700th victory as Gamecock head coach. Tanner is 699-297 (.702) in 16 years at USC and owns an overall record of 1,094-470-3 record in 25 years as a head coach.
* Tanner and Princeton head coach Scott Bradley earned All-ACC honors at third base in 1980. Bradley was a first-team selection for North Carolina and Tanner a second-team selection for N.C. State.
* Princeton plays its first 17 games on the road. The Tigers don't have a home game until March 31 when they face Ivy League rival Dartmouth.
(All three-game series unless noted)
Binghamton at Arkansas
Belmont at Auburn
Florida Gulf Coast at Florida
UCLA at Georgia
Canisius at Kentucky
Houston at Ole Miss
Mercer at Mississippi State
Louisiana-Monroe at Tennessee
San Diego at Vanderbilt
Alabama at Tuscaloosa Tournament (East Carolina, Louisville, Oral Roberts)
LSU at Baton Rouge Tournament (Michigan, Notre Dame)
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D. McCallum