UNC baseball: Gamecocks will test Tar Heels

lkeeley@newsobserver.comJune 4, 2013 

NCAA Liberty South Carolina Baseball

South Carolina's Tanner English hits an RBI bunt against Liberty at the Columbia NCAA regional college baseball tournament in Columbia, S.C., Monday, June 3, 2013.


First-year South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook is plenty familiar with UNC. He spent 18 years in Chapel Hill, the first three as a player and the final 15 as an assistant coach.

Holbrook will be facing his alma mater for the first time this weekend, with a trip to the College World Series on the line. The Gamecocks have made three consecutive trips to Omaha, winning in 2010 and 2011. South Carolina has never made four straight trips.

No. 1 overall seed UNC, meanwhile, emerged from a tough regional weekend with a worn-out pitching staff. Just four No. 1s have failed to make it to Omaha since the current format began in 1999.

Here’s a bit more about the Gamecocks (42-18) who will play at UNC (55-9) Friday at 1 p.m., Saturday at noon, and, if necessary, Sunday at 1 p.m. Friday’s game is on ESPN2. Saturday’s game is on ESPN, and, if Sunday’s game is played, it will be on ESPN as well.

How they got here: Expectations are high at South Carolina, and Holbrook got off to a slow start in his first year in charge (he was a Gamecocks assistant for the previous four years). South Carolina started 1-5 in SEC play and dealt with injuries to its ace (Jordan Montgomery), closer (Tyler Webb), first baseman (LB Dantzler), second baseman (Max Schrock) and all three outfielders.

But the Gamecocks turned it around in time to win 16 of their final 23 SEC games. A 1-4 stretch to end the regular season didn’t derail them, either, as South Carolina went 3-0 in last weekend’s regional. The Gamecocks did catch a break and didn’t have to play No. 2-seeded Clemson. Instead, South Carolina beat St. Louis 7-3 and Liberty twice, 19-3 and 6-4.

Best hitters: There are no stars on this Gamecocks squad – not one player ranks in Baseball America’s top 500 prospects for this week’s MLB Draft, and no one made first-team all-SEC, either.

Dantzler, who has been the designated hitter of late, leads the Gamecocks with a .322 average and has 15 home runs and doubles apiece, both team-highs. His 51 RBIs and 46 runs scored also lead the squad.

Catcher Grayson Greiner, a second-team all-SEC pick, is hitting .304 with 10 doubles and 35 RBIs. Kyle Martin, who took over at first base for Dantzler, was the most outstanding player of last weekend’s regional.

Best pitchers: South Carolina’s top five pitchers are all left-handed. Freshman Jordan Montgomery missed time earlier this season with a stress reaction in his pitching elbow. When he’s been healthy, though, he’s been dominant, with a 1.67 ERA in 12 starts. He has 57 strikeouts against 17 walks in 70 innings and his holding opponents to a .234 batting average.

Nolan Belcher, another lefty, sports a 2.25 ERA in 16 starts and a .236 opponents batting average. In his 112 innings this year, Belcher has walked 15 and struck out 94.

Closer Tyler Webb and fellow southpaws Jack Wynkoop (the third starter) and Adam Westmoreland are other options as well.

Best win: Taking the final two games of a three-game series at LSU to end April was a pivotal moment in the Gamecock’s season.

Worst loss: An April 23 midweek 7-6 loss to Gardner-Webb, in a game the Gamecocks were winning in the eighth inning, was a low point (the Runnin’ Bulldogs finished the year 29-27-1).

NCAA tournament history: South Carolina is making its 11th NCAA Super Regional appearance in the past 14 years. Only Florida State has more appearances (12) in that span. The Gamecocks won the College World Series in 2010 and 2011 and finished second last season. South Carolina last faced UNC in the 2007 super regional, which the Tar Heels won.

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