Smelley returns, with Bama, to face USC

nwhite@thestate.comApril 29, 2010 

A familiar-looking guy will be wearing No. 22 for the Alabama baseball team when it visits Carolina Stadium for this weekend's three-game series against the Gamecocks.

He's the same guy who wore No. 7 for the USC football team for three seasons.

Chris Smelley returns to Columbia as a backup catcher for the Crimson Tide 16 months after transferring to the rival SEC school. Although Smelley, a junior in baseball eligibility, is not starting, he is on the 25-man travel roster for conference games.

In 12 appearances this season, nine of them starts, Smelley has batted .179 (5-for-28) with two RBIs. Brock Bennett won the starting job behind the plate, leaving Smelley to split time with Cody Trotter in a reserve role.

Smelley was ineligible last season after transferring from USC mid-year. He declined an interview request until the end of the weekend series with USC.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Smelley started 15 of the 21 games he played for Steve Spurrier in two-plus seasons, completing 270-of-479 passes for 3,210 yards with 23 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.

But the Tuscaloosa native, whose younger brother plays football for Alabama, decided to return home and switch sports. He starred for American Christian Academy in high school football and baseball.

Homecoming II

Twenty-nine years after finishing fourth in the College World Series, members of the 1981 USC baseball team will return to Columbia to receive rings for making it to Omaha.

After it was recently learned the players never were given rings for the accomplishment, they were invited back to be honored Saturday in a 12:45 p.m. pregame ceremony.

Former coach June Raines will be present along with assistant Johnny Hunton and many of the team's players, including stalwarts Jim Curl, Dennis Lubert, Rod Carraway, Joe Kucharski, and Chris Boyle.

Homecoming III

Another Alabama player also returns to South Carolina with deeper roots. Freshman pitcher Tucker Hawley, a 6-foot-4 righthander, attended South Aiken High. His father, Billy, attended Brookland-Cayce and was drafted in the first round of the 1982 MLB draft by the Cincinnati Reds.

The younger Hawley, who started last Sunday's 6-4 victory against Mississippi State but did not figure in the decision, has compiled a 1-1 record with 5.57 ERA in eight appearances.

Homecoming IV

USC senior right-hander Blake Cooper (8-0) is back at Carolina Stadium Friday night in search of his 30th career win. Only nine pitchers in school history have earned at least that many victories. Cooper could tie Mike Cook (30-8, 1983-85) with a victory against Alabama and move one behind Dennis Lubert (31-9, 1979-82), Matt Threehouse (31-14, 1989-93) and David Marchbanks (31-8, 2001-03).

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