RIDER (6-1) at NO. 6 SOUTH CAROLINA (10-2)
When: 7 p.m. today, 4 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Carolina Stadium, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
Probable starting pitchers: Rider - LHP Tyler Smith (today, 2-0, 1.38 ERA); RHP Kurt Sowa (Saturday, 2-0, 1.29); RHP Mike Murphy (Sunday, 1-1, 8.68). South Carolina -- RHP Evan Beal (today, 0-0, 0.00); RHP Colby Holmes (Saturday, 1-1, 3.71); LHP Nolan Belcher (Sunday, 2-1, 2.18)
Notes: South Carolina hosts its final non-conference series of the season. … Max Schrock stole three bases in his last game, the most by a Gamecock in a single game since Davy Gregg stole three in 2005. … Belcher is coming off a complete-game shutout over archrival Clemson. … LB Dantzler has a nine-game hitting streak. … USC also played Rider in men's basketball this season. … The Gamecocks are in the midst of playing two straight five-game weeks.
Next up: USC hosts USC Upstate at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
Ray Tanner was known for saying "Win anyway" throughout his career as South Carolina's baseball coach. It's just that the phrase got popular in 2011, when the Gamecocks had a revolving door of injuries, yet still managed to win their second straight national championship.
Chad Holbrook, in his first year after replacing Tanner, was along for that ride and the phrase is pasted on a poster outside USC's locker room. He's used to seeing it.
Now he'll have to get used to hearing it, and trying to follow its instruction.
The No. 6 Gamecocks limp into this weekend's series with Rider (6-1), missing their ace pitcher and starting center fielder (and sometimes leadoff hitter). Two key backups are also on the mend, with one out for the foreseeable future and another expected to play, but playing on a bum ankle.
Injuries will happen in a 56-game regular season, but Holbrook has been dealt quite a couple of doozies in his first 12.
The big one is to left-hander Jordan Montgomery, who has a stress reaction in his throwing arm. The USC medical staff seemingly caught the injury before it got worse (as in a stress fracture) and is hopeful that two weeks off will get Montgomery healthy again.
That takes Montgomery out for the Rider and the SEC-opening series at Missouri, and most likely Arkansas, since Montgomery will be re-examined before that series. In his absence, Holbrook is re-shuffling the pitching rotation.
With midweek starter Jack Wynkoop, a preseason candidate to be a weekend starter, having pitched already this week, Holbrook is turning to reliever Evan Beal to start tonight against Rider. That keeps the normal rotation (Colby Holmes on Saturday and Nolan Belcher on Sunday) in place. Next week, he may re-shuffle and try to get Wynkoop into the regular rotation, but Beal will get first crack at the Broncs this week.
The Gamecocks will also be missing one of their defensive stalwarts this weekend, as center fielder Tanner English has been ruled out for tonight and is doubtful for Saturday and Sunday. English, who was already playing with a broken nose, has been experiencing pain in his throwing arm; while an MRI didn't reveal a specific malady on Thursday and left encouraging results, English will be missing from the Gamecocks' greatest strength - up-the-middle defense.
"If he tore anything in there, outfielders can usually play with those type of things," Holbrook said earlier this week. "We'll just have to send Joey Pankake out there to get the ball from him and let him throw it instead of Tanner. It's a concern."
The good news is that English won't need surgery. But it does shake up Holbrook's outfield alignment. He will most likely start TJ Costen in center, who has the speed to mimic English but has had some heart-stopping moments on defense, and whose bat needs some work as well. The Gamecocks are limited with other options.
Connor Bright can play center or a corner spot, but has been dealing with a bad ankle after fouling a ball off his foot. He should be fine to play this weekend. Backup outfielder Ahmad Christian, who Holbrook was extremely high on in the preseason, hasn't played since the season-opening series with a back problem. The hope is that he will be able to return for the Missouri series.
As for English's batting spot, he was projected to be a leadoff hitter in the preseason but has only done it once. The rest of the time, Graham Saiko has hit leadoff, and he should continue to do so.
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