Neil White

In the know about Gamecocks baseball

Commentary: Steady hands carry Holbrook’s Gamecocks

03/18/2013 8:53 PM

05/20/2013 2:54 PM

USC baseball coach Chad Holbrook will take a series victory in conference play — especially on the road — any weekend of the season.

The Gamecocks (17-3), who remained No. 5 in the Baseball America Top 25 this week, won the first two games against Missouri (6-9) but lost the finale.

And Holbrook will definitely accept two-of-three on a weekend when his team scores six runs and bats .188.

“Missouri’s a good solid team. I know their record doesn’t really show it, but they’ll beat some people,” Holbrook said.

“They’ve got a great Friday night guy who has a gifted arm, and we were able to win two games. We were ecstatic that we won two games.”

Over the past three seasons — the best stretch in USC history — the Gamecocks went 61-28 (.685) in the SEC and won 23 of 30 regular-season conference series. They’ve made a living by steadily taking two-of-three. Of those 30 series, they won two-of-three 14 times and swept nine times. They were only swept once over that period.

Consistency is the key to winning regularly against this kind of competition, and Holbrook saw some good things against the Tigers. The Gamecocks played errorless baseball behind their pitchers, who continue to keep their team in every game.

Holbrook loved how Evan Beal matched Missouri ace Rob Zastryzny pitch-for-pitch, and he loved how Nolan Belcher continued to throw scoreless innings. Colby Holmes struggled again, but Holbrook said the cold, blustery wind blowing in kept his team from getting its offense going.

“I wasn’t disappointed with how we played, to be honest,” he said. “We hit some balls on the nose, and we didn’t have anything to show for it.”

USC is 2-1 in the SEC. Only No. 2 Vanderbilt and Texas A&M swept their opening series. Other ranked teams such as No. 6 Ole Miss, No. 7 LSU and No. 10 Kentucky also won two-of-three, while two ranked teams, No. 19 Mississippi State and No. 21 Arkansas, lost two-of-three.

The Razorbacks (14-7), who come to town this weekend, arguably have the league’s best pitching staff (1.81 ERA) with prospects such as Ryne Stanek, Randall Fant, Colby Suggs and Barrett Astin. USC has won this series each of the past three seasons, and another win here would make a strong statement about this team.

While Holbrook has positive vibes about his team’s start, he has some concerns. The Gamecocks continue to have key injuries. Left fielder Graham Saiko suffered a bone bruise and strained ligaments in his left wrist over the weekend, but the injury isn’t serious. Holbrook hopes to have him back in the lineup this week along with center fielder Tanner English, who injured his right shoulder two weeks ago. Staff ace Jordan Montgomery remains out for at least one or two more weekends.

Holbrook said he hopes to stabilize his lineup and end the revolving door at designated hitter.

“I’d like our DH situation to be a little more clear. I’d like to know that Tanner is healthy and ready to play center and that Graham can go. But at this point, I don’t know. We’re just going to have to play who’s healthy and ready and gives us the best chance to win,” Holbrook said. “There’s no doubt it’s a little bit unsettling. But at the same time, it gives those guys who are looking for an opportunity to have one.”

Beal and Belcher will face Arkansas “in some order,” but Holmes’ spot in the rotation is less certain. Freshman Jack Wynkoop is a possible replacement.

“What we’re going to do Sunday is a little bit up in the air right now,” Holbrook said.

But as long as the Gamecocks keep winning steadily on conference weekends, he isn’t about to find fault.

About Neil White

Neil White is the South Carolina baseball beat writer for Follow Neil at @neilatthestate


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