If it's any consolation to Chad Holbrook, the last time South Carolina was hit with this many injuries, one on top of another, the Gamecocks won the national championship.
Freshman second baseman Max Schrock is the latest USC player to get banged up this year, after a nasty collision during Tuesday's 6-5 win over The Citadel. Racing to cover first base when Bulldogs batter Tyler Griffin dropped a sacrifice bunt, Schrock reached the bag at the same time as Griffin.
Vince Fiori's throw to first was low and to the corner of the bag facing the pitcher's mound. Schrock went low to get it and did, but his trajectory carried him right into Griffin's path.
Article Continues Below
The two slammed together, going down in a heap as all of Carolina Stadium winced. The ball trickled out of Schrock's glove, leaving Griffin safe and Fiori charged with an error, but everybody was looking at the two players.
Griffin rolled over, checked himself and then noticed Schrock on his back, trying to raise his head only to lay it back down on the ground. He immediately apologized to Schrock and the Gamecocks standing around him, although it was in no way a dirty play.
Schrock lay on his back, knees up, for a period as USC's trainers checked on him. They finally got him up, a strawberry already forming above his right eye, and gingerly walked him to the clubhouse.
The news was about as encouraging as it could get afterward.
"Max is diagnosed with a slight concussion," Holbrook said. "It's like he was in a car accident."
Schrock was X-rayed and found to have no fractures in his neck, although he's very stiff, sore and couldn't turn his head on Tuesday night. He has whiplash, but his prognosis went from bad to so-so to good during the game.
At first, doctors were telling Holbrook there was no way that Schrock would be able to even travel this weekend, when USC leaves on Wednesday for a three-game series at Florida. Then it was that it was a wait-and-see, then it was that if Schrock was as encouraging in the last round of concussion testing on Wednesday as he was late Tuesday, he could be on the bus after all.
Holbrook hasn't thought very far ahead, because it could be that Schrock could still play. That would be ideal, considering that he's earned the second base spot and had just begun to live up to the "best hitter on the team" tag that he carried in the preseason. Schrock batted .500 in the five games before Tuesday and was named SEC Freshman of the Week.
If not, USC has several options.
Freshman DC Arendas came in at second to replace Schrock, but was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the seventh and replaced with Connor Bright. Holbrook said in the preseason that he didn't want Arendas at second (he's a natural shortstop), and while Bright also played a lot of shortstop in high school, he's most likely a better option than Arendas. It wouldn't take away from the outfield, where Bright had claimed a spot, because Holbrook could also put TJ Costen back out there.
Holbrook could also put Chase Vergason, last year's second baseman, back at that spot and fill third base with either freshman George Iskenderian or junior Erik Payne. Iskenderian has a lot of promise that Holbrook wants to keep developing, but there's just a lot of men in front of him right now.
What won't happen is LB Dantzler moving back to third, his position last year. He'll stay at first base. Holbrook has to see if Schrock is cleared to travel, and then if he's ready to play, before he starts looking at contingencies.
"I've got 12 guys I want to play, and it's not basketball," Holbrook said.
COASTER: Joey Pankake came up big for the Gamecocks on Tuesday, belting the second pitch of USC's ninth inning for a walk-off home run. Pankake brushed it aside as part of his plan to improve.
"I think I'm a better player than I showed last year," he said. "I've left a lot of runners on base. There are still a lot of improvements that need to be made."
Holbrook put it more succinctly.
"Sometimes I want to strangle him," Holbrook said. "But you're not going to see this coach take him out of the lineup."
Asked why Pankake sometimes tempts Holbrook to give him the ol' Sprewell, Holbrook spread his hands. "Well, you guys have seen it," he said. "He's Joey Pankake."
Pankake, Holbrook said, has so much raw talent that it's ridiculous. Had he wanted to strictly be a pitcher - he can hit low 90s without much of a warm-up - he would be in the pros right now. He can play every position on the diamond, and he can hit, too.
But Pankake also has 13 errors, and hasn't seemed to improve that much in the field from last year to this year. Holbrook even said that those are plays that he needs to make - not only as a shortstop, but as a USC shortstop, where Pankake's predecessors are mostly all still in pro baseball.
"He smelled the popcorn in Omaha," Holbrook said. "He knows what big-time baseball is all about. He's only begun to scratch the surface about how good he can be."
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD: USC thought it had the game wrapped up, when Evan Beal was summoned to close out a 5-2 win with two on and one out in the ninth. Beal had struggled as a starter, but that was because he's a natural reliever - he could now not have to worry about extending himself.
Beal did his job by retiring cleanup hitter Bo Thompson, who has hit 10 homers, with a pop-up. But then he gave up a single deep in the hole to Jason Smith to load the bases, and walked Drew DeKerlegand to force in a run.
In came Curt Britt, who gave up another single through the hole at short to tie the game. Britt got the last out, and ended up the winner when Pankake won the game in the ninth, but it was just another example of how USC's middle relief seems to be Adam Westmoreland and This Space Available.
The good news was that USC won the game, and Vince Fiori sparkled in place of starter Joel Seddon. Fiori only gave up two hits and two walks while striking out two in 4 1-3 innings, his fourth straight strong appearance. USC will also have a fresh Westmoreland and closer Tyler Webb for the Florida series.
But the Gamecocks really need Beal to return to dominance, to take the load off the other arms. Beal and Westmoreland will give USC a 1-2 punch before Webb, which ought to be enough to cover any more glaring struggles.
1-0: USC won a game in its "Battle" uniforms, where a black and gray camouflage motif was in the letters and numbers on USC's jerseys. That's certainly a much better record than the football team had in the same kind of uniforms.
OH, I SEE: USC's bullpen crew placed Gatorade cups in the holes of the fence to spell out "Cocks" a few games ago and it's remained there since. The Citadel's relievers, not to be outdone, spelled "Dogs" in their bullpen fence on Tuesday.
How long it remained after Pankake's homer settled into the same bullpen wasn't quite clear.
JUST LIKE CHARLIE HUSTLE: Sean Sullivan coached first base while Brian Buscher went to third, due to normal third-base coach Sammy Esposito being out of town on a recruiting trip. As USC play-by-play man Andy Demetra Tweeted, when Sullivan went into the game to play right field in the eighth inning, he became a player-coach.
Nolan Belcher took over coaching first when Sullivan went to the field.
Alabama 3, Alcorn State 2
Arkansas 4, New Mexico 3
New Mexico 3, Arkansas 0
Florida 4, Florida State 3
Georgia Tech 7, Georgia 5
Kentucky 6, Austin Peay State 3
LSU 11, Southern 2
Mississippi State 5, Ole Miss 1
South Carolina 6, The Citadel 5
Tennessee 4, East Tennessee State 3
Texas A&M 4, Sam Houston State 1
Vanderbilt 10, Tennessee-Martin 3