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Ebert puts Gamecocks on the power play

USC first baseman No. 47 Nick Ebert celebrates a three-run home run in the bottom of the third inning as USC sweeps Vanderbilt after a 11-3 win Sunday at Carolina Stadium.
USC first baseman No. 47 Nick Ebert celebrates a three-run home run in the bottom of the third inning as USC sweeps Vanderbilt after a 11-3 win Sunday at Carolina Stadium. The State

The South Carolina baseball team's starting lineup is getting an infusion of power for this weekend's series against East Carolina.

Nick Ebert is back.

The slugging first baseman's academic suspension was lifted when he showed headway in a course in his major of psychology, coach Ray Tanner said Thursday.

After getting an incomplete grade during the fall semester, Ebert was ruled ineligible for not making the required progress toward his degree.

But as he neared the midway point of the spring semester, he satisfactorily completed the assignments.

"That's great news for us," said Tanner, whose No. 10 Gamecocks are in Greenville, N.C., today to begin a three-game series with the 22nd-ranked Pirates.

Ebert, who hit .321 with 23 home runs and 72 RBIs last season as a junior to earn second-team All-SEC honors, missed the opening series against Duquesne, which the Gamecocks swept. He expressed disappointment in himself and apologized to his teammates and coaches for creating a distraction to open the season.

"That's the biggest relief," Ebert said. "The cameras don't have to be on me off the field."

He also thanked his teammates for their support while he sweated out the length of the suspension, which could have lasted until the end of the semester.

"It was tough on me," he said.

Ebert said the support was a motivating factor in regaining his eligibility.

"I busted my butt and did what had to be done so I could get it over with," he said.

Ebert said he's ready to step into the lineup at first base or designated hitter.

His teammates were pleased by the news as well. Junior outfielder Whit Merrifield said Ebert provides protection for the hitters in front of him in the order.

"Last year spoke for itself," Merrifield said. "He's a great power hitter who drives in runs. Nick's bat makes everyone else better."

Senior right-handed pitcher Blake Cooper, who will start today, also likes the idea of having Ebert providing run support.

"It's a good surprise. Nobody expected to have him back this year," Cooper said.

The timing is especially good because of the opponent. The Pirates (2-2) knocked USC out of the NCAA regional in Greenville last season and return most of their players.

"I have great respect for East Carolina's program. It's a tradition-rich program, and they may be as good as they've ever been," Tanner said. "It's a great matchup. We'll have to play great baseball in Greenville this weekend."

USC outscored Duquesne 28-9 this past weekend, while ECU lost two of three to No. 1 Virginia before bouncing back to defeat Old Dominion on Tuesday.

The Gamecocks will start junior right-hander Sam Dyson and sophomore left-hander Steven Neff in the other two games against ECU.

Tanner is going with Neff over freshman Tyler Webb, who started Sunday against Duquesne, because of the experience factor.

The biggest question for the Gamecocks now revolves around the recovery of sophomore outfielder Jackie Bradley, who had surgery on his broken right hand 2 1/2 weeks ago. Originally thought to be out four to eight weeks, Bradley was inserted to play defense for half-innings in two games against the Dukes.

He has started to swing the bat, and he characterized those sessions as pain-free. Tanner isn't sure if Bradley can swing the bat in a game against ECU but added that he could play again in the field.

"Whether we push it beyond that, it's doubtful," Tanner said.