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Steady USC senior to start opener

USC baseball coach Ray Tanner called the decision to start senior right-hander Blake Cooper in Friday's opener against Duquesne at Carolina Stadium an easy one, especially with junior ace Sam Dyson working his way back from off-season elbow surgery.

Cooper posted a 9-4 mark last season as the Sunday starter to run his three-season total to 21-12.

"It's only fitting he gets the ball," Tanner said. "He's been in the program a long time. In many ways, I look at him as what this program's all about."

Dyson, who will be limited to fewer than 50 pitches, will start Saturday, while freshman left-hander Tyler Webb earns the Sunday start instead of senior right-hander Jay Brown, who is expected to relieve Dyson, and sophomore left-hander Nolan Belcher, who has struggled recently in scrimmages.

"We feel like he deserved the opportunity to go out there," Tanner said. "He was very consistent in fall practice."

The 6-foot-6 Webb was thrilled with the weekend start.

"It's a great opportunity," Webb said. "I'm a little nervous, but that's normal. If you're not nervous, something's wrong."

Still out at first

Slugging first baseman Nick Ebert remains academically ineligible. Jeffery Jones will start at first base this weekend while Ebert works to remedy his academic situation, which might not be resolved until the end of the semester.

"There's still no timetable," Tanner said. "It's a week-to-week process."

Danger ahead

With a pair of weekend series coming up against No. 18 East Carolina, which ended USC's season in the NCAA regionals last year, and No. 15 Clemson, Tanner wants to get things started the right way against the Dukes.

"It's important for us to play well," he said. "You don't get games back. They all count."

Finishing up

Junior right-hander John Taylor, a transfer from Florence Darlington Tech, will start the season as the closer after pitching well in scrimmages. He's ready to fill that key role after getting a quiz from Tanner.

"He asked me if I had the guts to do it, and I told him yes," Taylor said.

Ten rhymes with win

Kip Bouknight, the school's all-time wins leader with 45, will throw out Friday's ceremonial first pitch. This is the 10th anniversary of the 2000 season, when Tanner won his first SEC championship with a team that went 56-10. Bouknight won the Golden Spikes Award that year with a 17-1 record.

Short hops

USC holds a 19-0 lead in the series with Duquesne dating to 1995, including three wins to open Carolina Stadium last season. This is the final season for the Dukes, who are dropping the baseball program at season's end.

... Three players are being redshirted this season: sophomore left-hander Adam Westmoreland, who is recovering from arm surgery; junior left-hander Logan Munson, a transfer from North Carolina; and junior outfielder Jake Williams, a transfer from Wofford. They are not listed on the 35-man roster.

Projected starting lineup

Starters Class Position Comment
Kyle Enders Sr. C Captain takes over behind plate in fifth season
Jeffery Jones Sr. 1B Steps in with Nick Ebert out for academic reasons
Scott Wingo Jr. 2B Tanner hopes his offense matches his strong defense
Bobby Haney Sr. SS Slick-fielding infielder came on strong late last season
Christian Walker Fr. 3B Big things expected from power-hitting freshman
Robert Beary Jr. LF Versatile JUCO transfer replaces injured Jackie Bradley
Whit Merrifield Jr. CF Standout player back for third season as starter
Adam Matthews So. RF Tremendous athlete ready to show his power, speed
Parker Bangs Jr. DH Hard-hitting veteran also will see time on the mound
or Brison Celek Fr. DH Impressive newcomer has shown coaches he can hit
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