USC-Vanderbilt Baseball Preview

NO. 17 SOUTH CAROLINA (40-13, 16-11) at NO. 18 VANDERBILT (39-14, 16-11)
When: Thursday 7:30 p.m., Friday 7:30 p.m., Saturday 3 p.m. (All Times Eastern)
Where: Hawkins Field, Nashville
Tickets: Available at the box office
TV: Thursday - ESPNU (Dave Neal, Kyle Peterson, Chris Burke); Saturday - CBS Sports Network (John Sadak, Ray King)
All-Time Series: South Carolina leads 49-26
Last meeting: Vanderbilt won 4-3 (10 inn.) in Hoover, Ala., on May 23, 2013
Probable starting pitchers
South Carolina
Thursday: Jr. LHP Jordan Montgomery (7-4, 3.21 ERA, 81.1 IP, 74 H, 24 BB, 77 K)
Friday: So. LHP Jack Wynkoop (7-3, 2.16 ERA, 79.0 IP, 75 H, 10 BB, 54 K)
Saturday: Fr. RHP Wil Crowe (6-3, 2.97 ERA, 75.2 IP, 68 H, 19 BB, 46 K)
Thursday: Jr. RHP Tyler Beede (7-6, 3.43 ERA, 76.0 IP, 32 BB, 82 K)
Friday: So. RHP Carson Fulmer (4-1, 0.98 ERA, 55.0 IP, 23 BB, 62 K)
Saturday: So. RHP Tyler Ferguson (7-3, 2.66 ERA, 67.2 IP, 22 BB, 55 K)
Since preseason camp in early February, Vanderbilt's loaded roster of power arms on the mound has been a major topic of conversation in college baseball circles.
But South Carolina's pitching staff is decent too, as reflected by the latest SEC statistics. Going into Tuesday's games, the Gamecocks possessed the lowest ERA in the conference (2.03 in 470.0 IP), while Vanderbilt was third at 2.48 in 461.2 innings.
USC's team ERA dropped to a sizzling 1.99 (106 earned runs in 479 IP) after limiting The Citadel to an unearned run in the second inning of Tuesday's 10-1 victory at Carolina Stadium. Vanderbilt's team ERA, meanwhile, rose slightly to 2.50 after a 10-4 home victory over Southeast Missouri State.
"Our pitchers are going to do what they do and that's give us a chance to win," USC coach Chad Holbrook said Tuesday night following USC's 40th victory of the season. "We go about trying to get people out in a little bit of a different manner (than Vanderbilt). Would we love to have more power arms in our program? Sure. But Tom Glavine is in the Hall of Fame and he threw it in the mid-80s."
The difference between the two pitching staffs is visible in strikeouts per inning: USC is averaging 0.86 strikeouts (410 strikeouts in 479 innings) and Vanderbilt is averaging 1.02 strikeouts (480 strikeouts in 470.2 IP). Thus, even though Commodore pitchers have thrown 8.1 fewer innings than USC hurlers, they have 70 more strikeouts.
"They're going to beat us on the radar gun," Holbrook acknowledged. "They're going to wipe us out. Every pitch they know is going to be a lot harder than what we throw. They've got guys that don't get to pitch much that will go in the first three rounds (of the MLB Draft). But there's a pitchability there (for USC) and we have to make sure we don't give them free (walks) and make sure we compete at the plate and try to scratch and claw and see if we can push a couple of runs across."
USC's lineup has been energized by the return of second baseman Max Schrock, who sat out Tuesday's win over The Citadel with back stiffness. Instead of making massive changes to the batting order, Holbrook simply inserted freshman designated hitter Taylor Widener into the second spot and kept everybody else where they've been in recent games.
"We've got a little rhythm going with this lineup with Marcus (Mooney) leading off, K-Mart (Kyle Martin) at three, (Grayson)Greiner four and (Joey) Pankake five and letting the bottom half scratch and claw, hit and run and bunt," Holbrook said. "Each player is getting more comfortable with their role, so I'm going to try to keep that lineup with the way it's going. We've had some double-digit hits, double-digit runs of late. We've been producing, so I'm not going to change it."
The last time USC won more than one game against Vanderbilt in a single season was 2009 when the Gamecocks swept the regular season series and again in Hoover. However, over the past five years, USC is 6-8 against the Commodores and will seek to snap a four-game losing streak to Vanderbilt on Thursday night.
Vanderbilt won both games in Columbia a year ago with the third game getting rained out.
"It's South Carolina and Vanderbilt, two of the better teams in the country, not only this year but for the last several years," Holbrook said. "They're going to be excited to play us and we're going to be excited to play them. We're going to see if we can compete with them."
Last year, Vanderbilt's No. 1 starter Tyler Beede, who has 82 strikeouts in 76.0 innings pitched this season, limited USC to two runs on two hits with seven strikeouts in 6.1 innings.
Baseball America lists Beede as the No. 15 prospect available for next month's MLB First Year Player Draft.
"We didn't compete very well with Beede last year. He just overmatched us and overpowered us," Holbrook said. "He's going to a first-rounder and possibly go in the first 10 picks in the June draft. So, it doesn't necessarily look good for us based on what he did to us last year.
"But our guys are excited about going there and playing. They're not going to be uptight or nervous about playing. It's an opportunity to play a very good team on the road and that's how our guys are looking at it. We'll see where we stand."
-- USC is ranked No. 8 by the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll, No. 9 by the NCBWA, No. 15 by Perfect Game and No. 17 by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball. The Gamecocks and Vanderbilt are tied for second in the SEC East and tied for third overall in the SEC with identical 16-11 records. The top four teams in terms of conference record earn a bye in next week's SEC Tournament.
-- Holbrook said outfielder Connor Bright, hampered by an elbow injury for about a month, took BP on Tuesday. "I'm going to hesitate just throwing him in there because he hasn't seen live pitching," Holbrook said. "I could use him defensively or run the bases or pinch-hit. We'll see how his BP goes tomorrow night up there when we practice and we'll see how he responds to swinging the bat."
-- Holbrook said Schrock remains 'day-to-day' due to his back ailment.
-- Holbrook on USC dropping one spot in the RPI despite sweeping Missouri: "Maybe we'll not win a game and go up two spots. You never know with this crazy thing."
Batting Average: Grayson Greiner (.344)
At-bats: Kyle Martin (207)
Runs: Joey Pankake (47)
Hits: Kyle Martin (67)
Doubles: Grayson Greiner (11)
Triples: Three with 1
Home Runs: Grayson Greiner (8)
RBI: Grayson Greiner (49)
Total Bases: Grayson Greiner (97)
Slugging Pct: Grayson Greiner (.539)
Walks: Grayson Greiner, Joey Pankake (24)
On-Base Pct: Grayson Greiner (.414)
Stolen Bases: Tanner English (17).
SEC EAST STANDINGS: Florida 19-8, Vanderbilt 16-11, USC 16-11, Kentucky 12-15, Tennessee 11-16, Georgia 10-16-1, Missouri 6-21.
1. Florida 19-8
2. Ole Miss 17-10
3. USC 16-11, Vanderbilt 16-11, Mississippi State 16-11
6. LSU 14-11-1
7. Alabama 14-12
8. Arkansas 13-14 (Arky won series vs. Texas A&M)
9. Texas A&M 13-14
10. Kentucky 12-15
11. Tennessee 11-16
12. Georgia 10-16-1
13. Auburn 10-17
14. Missouri 6-21*
* Eliminated from SEC Tournament consideration.
Note: 12 teams qualify for SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., from May 20-25. Top four teams earn first-round byes