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Baseball: Rested arms are in short supply

HOOVER, Ala. —- South Carolina has used five starting pitchers the last few months of this season. When Blake Cooper starts today, all five will have gone in the first three days of the SEC tournament.

If the Gamecocks survive until Saturday and beyond, they will either have to start one or two on very short rest, or get creative.

Two starters (Sam Dyson and Nick Godwin) threw at least 120 pitches, so they're probably done for the tournament. That leaves Will Atwood and Mike Cisco, who each went in short relief the first two rounds.

Atwood, a lefty, would likely start on Saturday, according to coach Ray Tanner. But he also mentioned three relievers: Jordan Costner and Craig Thomas have yet to pitch, and Brandon Todd went 25 pitches on Wednesday.

Cisco, who went two innings on Thursday, said it would be a "play-it-by-ear kind of thing" to see how his arm feels today and Saturday. The Gamecocks would have to win twice Saturday to reach Sunday's championship.

"I'm thinking we need to win again to give (Cisco) another day's rest so he can pitch on Saturday," Tanner said. "But we'll see where he is, we're in a do-or-die situation."

Smoak's milestones. Justin Smoak is nearing some notable names on the SEC's career homers list.

The USC star hit his 60th homer on Thursday, putting him seventh on the all-time list. Just ahead of him are Will Clark, the former major league star, and Andy Phillips, who also saw some time in the majors.

Unless he returns for his senior year, Smoak isn't likely to catch all-time leader Eddy Furniss. But he has a chance to become the career leader among three-year players; That mark is 67, and is held by Rafael Palmeiro.

"I guess you look for the records, it's just hard for me," Smoak said. "The home run record is nice, the RBI record is nice, but the only thing I really care about is winning ballgames."

Time for 'research.' It has not escaped Tanner's attention that the SEC ranked only fourth in the Ratings Percentage Index, the formula the NCAA selection committee considers.

"I know the coaches, we don't quite understand it. We don't know if we have too many bad losses. We don't know if we haven't won enough. We've got to get it figured out, because you know and I know this is a great baseball conference. There is so much parity."

Tanner does not think it is the nonconference schedule, pointing out they all play the same regional schedule every year.

"We only lost two or three nonconference games. But did the Yale (loss), was that magnified? Did that hurt us? Because Furman (which also beat USC) had a pretty good year. So we've got to figure that out. Maybe we haven't won enough games as a conference. Maybe that's it."

Lineup shakeup. Tanner said part of the reason left fielder Andrew Crisp did not start Thursday was his back was not feeling well in the morning. But Tanner also wanted to give at-bats to DeAngelo Mack —- who did well Wednesday —- and Parker Bangs. The duo combined to score four runs against Florida, with Bangs hitting an RBI double.

Tanner indicated he was likely to stick with that lineup, which also includes Phil Disher catching.

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.