USC coach Chad Holbrook isn’t changing his pitching rotation to begin NCAA tournament play.
Senior left-hander Nolan Belcher (7-5, 2.30 ERA) will get the start Friday night against Saint Louis, and sophomore left-hander Jordan Montgomery (4-1, 1.86 ERA) will start the second game.
“I don’t think we have any choice. Saint Louis is too good,” Holbrook said. “We’ve got to try to win our first game, and Nolan has been the Game 1 starter all year along.”
Belcher, who has thrown a team-high 105 2/3 innings in 15 starts this season, can’t wait to take the mound. He hasn’t started an NCAA tournament game since his freshman season against East Carolina.
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“I’m definitely excited about it. I’m looking forward to it,” Belcher said. “We’ve had a lot of days of practice. I’m just ready to play a game and get things cranked up.”
Holbrook didn’t announce a third-game starter if the Gamecocks still are playing, but freshman left-hander Jack Wynkoop (7-3, 2.81 ERA) is the obvious candidate.
All shook up
Freshman second baseman Max Schrock is slowly recovering from the concussion he suffered on a game-ending play in Thursday’s loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament. A collision on the basepaths knocked Schrock for a loop, and he hasn’t practiced since the team returned to Columbia.
Holbrook noted that concussions are handled cautiously by the USC medical staff, but he added that Schrock, who’s hitting .286 with five homers and 37 RBIs, is getting better each day.
“Our fingers are crossed, and we’re hopeful that he’ll be able to play,” Holbrook said.
If Schrock isn’t cleared to play, little-used freshman infielder DC Arendas, a solid defensive player, likely will take over at second base.
Pitch and catch
The Gamecocks have scored five runs or less in each of their past six games — four of them losses — but Holbrook is less worried about the offense than holding the opponent in check. Low-scoring games have been a way of life for USC in the postseason for three years, but the team has managed to survive.
“We found ways to win games here in the past getting five and six hits a game because we pitched our rear ends off and we played great defense,” he said. “Those two things are most important this time of year.”
Even though bullpen stalwarts Adam Westmoreland (7-3, 2.05 ERA, 3 saves) and Tyler Webb (2-2, 1.24, 16 saves) have scuffled recently — Westmoreland has two of USC’s past four losses and Webb has one — Holbrook isn’t concerned about either of his senior left-handers.
“I feel they’ll be fresh and ready to go this weekend,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in those guys. I hope like crazy we can turn the ball over to them Friday night with a lead.”