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ON THE BALL

Upended Gamecocks miss their chance at the historic three-peat, but exit with hearts held high

Well, it was only a matter of time until their avatar spirit stick ran out of mojo. And there was plenty to go around for the 2012 Gamecock baseball team. Just not any at the time when they needed it most. They ran into a pack of Wildcats who did not #FearTheFish. What a run it has been over the past three years, though; the strongest of any sport in USC history. They posted an incredible 3 to 1 win-loss ratio, but saved their most impressive performances for the postseason. The Gamecocks have won 30 games over the past three years and only lost four. That is otherworldly, by the way. And as outstanding as it is to be able to boast about postseason dominance such as that, the way the Gamecocks played their way into the championship series with such young talent is what’s most impressive. As sad as it is to see mainstays like Michael Roth, Christian Walker, Matt Price and, most likely, Evan Marzilli leave, South Carolina will return much young talent next year that at times this year looked very dazed and confused by the spotlight. Two freshmen that will be relied upon heavily next year in the field will be Tanner English and Joey Pankake. English, who was the guy the announcers kept gushing about to a nauseating level with regards to his speed, will need to make drastic improvements at the plate. While his speed is as good as it gets, it’s all he was able to rely on this year. Push bunts, and sometimes the rare base hit through the gap in the defense while they defended against small ball was where he was most dominant with the bat. Being able to get the defense to respect him hitting for average will help his nerves and confidence, and also cause his batting average to make a sizable jump. One part of English’s game that surprised most was his ability to watch some pitches and get on base via walk later in the year. He understands that he is most dangerous when on base, and it might not just matter how he gets there. Just get there. For Joey Pankake, this year was a hard-learning curve for him being thrown into the SEC at shortstop as a freshman, but he didn’t let it get the best of him and turned his main deficiency

into a commendable improvement. At times it looked as though he would be pulled for his error-prone ways earlier in the year, and add-on not being able to really hit on a regular basis will show you the bench for a Ray Tanner club any day. What Pankake did was focus on something he could fix and made his fielding a position of strength towards the end of the year. For his hitting, Pankake, will have to shorten his swing a bit and get better plate discipline to put more pressure on the pitchers who were able to pick him apart once he got into the postseason. They add that outstanding field talent to the guy who looks to attempt and pick up the slack in losing dominating lefty Michael Roth, and that is Jordan Montgomery. Montgomery shined late in the season — much in the same way Roth came to be a starter — with big spot starts when Gamecock Nation was holding their breath upon not seeing Roth or Colby Holmes on the mound. His big frame allows him the extended reach to throw overpower pitches when needed, and then swoop a breaking ball in the zone to seal the deal. For relievers, they are in good hands with righty Forrest Koumas — who might be the spot starter next year — and lefties Tyler Webb and Nolan Belcher. Webb is the breadwinner of the bunch, as he’s the only one as of yet to get banged up — Belcher has made solid progress since coming back from Tommy John surgery, and Koumas had a mid-season scare but was able to return during the College World Series for some quality innings. Whatever next season holds will come without strong leadership from those familiar leaders who are taking the next step in their careers. But they already had to face somewhat similar conditions last year, and the year before that, and they ended up making it back to the College World Series Finals, so expectations will be high.

MATTLANE is host of The Weekend Rundown which airs from 10 a.m.-noon Saturdays on News-Talk-Sports 1630 AM. He can be reached at mattlane28@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @Mattlane28.

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METROSPIRIT 41

Metro Spirit 06.28.2012  

The Metro Spirit is a free weekly newspaper that serves readers in the Augusta and North Augusta area. Editorial coverage includes Richmond...

Metro Spirit 06.28.2012  

The Metro Spirit is a free weekly newspaper that serves readers in the Augusta and North Augusta area. Editorial coverage includes Richmond...

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