Kentucky isn’t Florida.
But USC coach Ray Tanner knows that no SEC series can be taken for granted. The Wildcats won the series against the Gamecocks last season in Lexington, one of two conference series USC lost during its national championship season.
Kentucky (15-11, 2-4 SEC) comes to Carolina Stadium unranked, but USC (19-5, 4-2) can’t afford a letdown while battling Florida and Vanderbilt for first place in the Eastern Division.
“It doesn’t matter who it is or what weekend it is in the Southeastern Conference,” Tanner said. “You’re going to face good people and difficult challenges.”
One of those challenges will be Kentucky’s Alex Meyer (3-3, 3.05 ERA), a 6-foot-9 junior right-hander who will start Friday’s game against USC’s Michael Roth.
“He’s a young man who can fly to the top of the draft charts,” Tanner said of Meyer. “He’s got that kind of arm. He’s a power guy with a great breaking ball.”
Meyer has 54 strikeouts in 411/3 innings, and teams are batting .214 against him.
Junior right fielder Adam Matthews is feeling the effects of tweaking his hamstring last weekend in Gainesville. He didn’t play Wednesday night against The Citadel, and he may see a limited role against Kentucky.
“I’d love to have Adam Matthews in there, no question about it,” Tanner said. “They have two lefties (pitchers) in the rotation this weekend. There’s an outside chance he’ll be available as a pinch-hitter, but probably not as a position player.”
The right-handed-hitting Matthews has given USC a reliable leadoff hitter with his recent hot streak. He’s batting .295 with two homers, 13 RBIs and a team-high four stolen bases.
Big league all the way
Tanner’s not just a baseball coach. He’s a fan, too.
On Major League Baseball’s opening day Thursday, he kept one eye peeled on the television.
“I saw the first pitch today with the Yankees and the Tigers. I was right there,” he said. “It’s exciting. If you’re a baseball person, it’s special.”
Some of his excitement can be attributed to having five former USC players starting the season on MLB rosters: Cleveland shortstop Adam Everett, Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts, Oakland catcher Landon Powell, Pittsburgh utilityman Steve Pearce and Seattle first baseman Justin Smoak.
“I’ve either called or texted all five of them,” Tanner said.