1st Team All-American
Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Darlington SC
Weekend preview: Palmetto punch
Weekend preview: Palmetto punch
This is Chad Holbrook's first hurrah as the leader at South Carolina.
For years, coach Ray Tanner served as the head coach for the Gamecocks. But in the offseason, Tanner replaced outgoing athletic director Eric Hyman, effectively allowing Holbrook to get promoted to head coach. Though Holbrook played his college baseball at North Carolina, and even coached there for a significant amount of time, he’s very well aware of just how important the South Carolina-Clemson series is in the Palmetto State.
For that reason and more, he’s anxious to experience the series for the first time as the head coach of the garnet and black.
“You can pretty much throw everything out the window anytime we get together with Clemson. I’m not sure there’s anything that can happen in a season that can allow you predict this series,” Holbrook said. “I know the way we’ve played here as of late, we’re certainly not where we want to be as a team at the end of the season, but we’re also not in bad shape.”
As the Gamecocks and Tigers renew their heated rivalry this weekend, Clemson will attempt to turn the tables on its recent rash of misfortunes against the Gamecocks, a negative trend that began at the 2010 College World Series.
South Carolina ushers in its first Clemson series with Chad Holbrook as skipper.
That year, the Tigers won the regular season series between the two clubs. But it was a much different story when the two met in Omaha, as the Gamecocks, then, used a little known arm at the time in Michael Roth to storm past the Tigers with a pair of victories on the way to the CWS Championship Series, and ultimately the national title over UCLA.
That trend has continued the past two seasons, with the Gamecocks going 2-1 against the Tigers in 2011 before going 4-1 against Clemson last season. The Gamecocks won the regular season series before also beating their heated rivals twice in the Columbia, S.C. Regional, to again eliminate them from the postseason.
“Clemson uses this series to recruit guys, and so do we,” Holbrook said. “Those guys are hungry and they’re really pitching well right now. They’ve got many young, dynamic players, and we’re really going to have to dial up our game a notch this weekend.”
As the case the past few seasons, the Gamecocks will again need their offense to rise to the occasion against Clemson this weekend. First baseman LB Dantzler is off to a hot start at the plate for the Gamecocks with an outstanding .542 batting average, three homers and 13 RBIs, while Chase Vergason, who moved to third base this spring, is hitting .412 with a home run and four RBIs.
The Gamecocks also are pleased with versatile and athletic Tanner English, but could have a void to fill this weekend if shortstop Joey Pankake is unable to play. Pankake, who’s hitting .353 with four RBIs, is listed as questionable with a serious groin pull. However, most close to the program expect him to play come this weekend.
“Joey is really important to our lineup because he provides some serious protection for some of our other hitters,” Holbrook said. “With that said, in the last week against Albany and Furman, we strung together some really nice at bats. We’re battling some injuries here and there like most teams, but for the most part, I’ve been pretty pleased.”
While the Gamecocks’ offensive lineup continues to be a work in progress, the pitching staff at least has some stability when it comes to the starting rotation.
South Carolina sophomore left-handed pitcher Jordan Montgomery matured down the stretch last season and evolved into an elite arm by the end of the season, while veteran right-handed pitcher Colby Holmes continues to do what he typically does best, displaying good command with decent stuff.
Montgomery, a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, was considered more of a crafty lefty type of pitcher for much of last season. However, he has evolved from a stuff standpoint after working hard in the weight room. Montgomery, who sat only mid 80s with his fastball last season, has added some arm strength and now sits mid-to-upper 80s.
“Our guys are all pitchability guys. We’re simply not going to blow up a bunch of radar guns, but Jordan is a little stronger and he’s feeling pretty good right now,” Holbrook said. “I don’t think he’s pitching as well as he can right now, but he is pretty unflappable from an emotional standpoint.”
Holmes hasn’t deviated from his usual plan on the mound so far this season. The talented right-hander has a 1.46 ERA in 12 1/3 innings of work, and continues to consistently throw four pitches for strikes, including a fastball that sits anywhere from 89-92.
Though senior left-handed pitcher Nolan Belcher has started in the No. 3 spot the past two weekends, Holbrook insists that role is still up for debate before Southeastern Conference play begins. Belcher has recorded 16 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings of work, and has worked hard in the weight room to improve his arm strength to pre-Tommy John surgery status, but also keep an eye on freshman Jack Wynkoop and veteran right-handed hurler Forrest Koumas.
Koumas is a well-known commodity because of his performances the past couple of seasons, while Wynkoop is a very intriguing arm to watch after getting off to a great start, not allowing a run in 5 1/3 innings of work so far this season.
From a stuff standpoint, Wynkoop has increased his arm strength since the Gamecocks first committed him. The left-hander was 84-85 with his fastball during his senior high school season, but is now up to 90-91 with the pitch at times.
“This is really a unique situation to have, because all of those guys have pitchability and do a great job of holding runners,” Holbrook said. “We don’t have any problem at all making Nolan a starter, or even putting him in the bullpen, because of his great mound presence. Jack, meanwhile, is going to be a big-time arm for us. He just continues to get better each time out it seems."
Freshman Curt Britt and veteran Adam Westmoreland are other arms that have been standing out to Holbrook, while veteran left-handed hurler Tyler Webb continues to perform at a very high level with a fastball up to 93.
The Gamecocks knew there would be a growing process after losing many key cogs and leaders from last year's College World Series club. But with the annual series against their heated rivals coming up this weekend, there aren't many holes to be found with these Gamecocks, surprising as that might be.
Perhaps Holbrook's first hurrah with Clemson will be one to remember ... just like most of the meetings the past three seasons.