Notebook: Sweet sweep

2011 started the way 2010 ended for the South Carolina Gamecocks, with wins. Facing a determined Santa Clara squad from the West Coast Conference, Ray Tanner's squad began their quest as defending national champs with three straight wins. While the team flexed its muscle in a 12-5 opening day win, pitching was the theme for the rest of the weekend in 2-1 and 6-0 Gamecock wins.

"Very happy about our weekend, being able to win all three games against an outstanding Santa Clara team," said head coach Ray Tanner following Sunday's victory. "(They were) well coached, tremendously disciplined, so I was tremendously concerned going into the weekend and we were able to win all three games. It wasn't an easy weekend for us, but we did some good things, played some good defense, as well as had quality pitching and timely hitting."

Walker and Bradley lead the way

Two of last year's heroes were right back on center stage over the weekend, as centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and first baseman Christian Walker tried to build on stellar campaigns last year and looked to bring that success into this first series.

There is no doubt that Bradley Jr. and Walker led the way at least for one weekend in the sweep.

Things got started the right way on Friday for Bradley Jr. as he had a perfect 4-4 day at the plate, including his first home run of the season to go with three runs batted in. But that was only the beginning of a seven hit weekend that also featured three doubles.

"I'm seeing the ball very well right now," Bradley said after his debut on Friday. "I'm just trying to see my pitches and don't miss. It was a great day, we all came out and played the game the right way and we got a win out of it."

Walker was no slouch as he went deep as well in the first game, a three run shot that finally put the game out of reach for the Broncos. His six runs batted in for the weekend led the team.

But after an offensive explosion Friday, Walker pointed to the versatility of these Gamecocks to win with pitching as something that bodes well for the rest of the year.

"Yeah it's good to know that your team is versatile like that," said Walker. "You have more confidence at the plate and the pitchers have more confidence in the hitters and it just makes you overall a better team."

Adjusting to the new bats

There was a major storyline in college baseball on its opening weekend, as the NCAA has issued new bat standards, marking some of the most drastic changes in the metal bats that have so long been a trademark of the college game. Some coaches have guessed that home run totals could be cut in half, and that it may be difficult for teams to adjust in the early going.

The Gamecocks may have seen some of that first hand after three home runs by the home team on Friday were followed up by none on Saturday and Sunday. Jackie Bradley Jr., who had a longball in the first contest, later said he thought at least two of his fly outs would have been gone with the old bats.

"Yeah we're definitely starting to get used to them, making the adjustments that we need to make," said Walker. "And everybody's got to deal with it, so there's no use complaining or any of that so it's just put up or shut up at this point. I've spent a couple falls, travel ball, summer ball, playing with wood. I mean they're similar but you can tell they still have the aluminum pop to them."

Pitching staff gets it done

Coming into the weekend there were several questions regarding the rebuilt Carolina pitching staff, and it began with an all new weekend rotation. But after seeing starters Michael Roth and Tyler Webb pick up wins and a strong outing from Adam Westmoreland on Sunday, it appears for at least one week that Ray Tanner and Jerry Meyers may have found their guys.

The USC bullpen was also a strong point of the weekend, especially on Saturday and Sunday as the bullpen locked down games after the departures of Webb and Westmoreland.

On Saturday it was Bryan Harper, brother of top MLB pick Bryce Harper, and stalwart Matt Price getting the job done and stopping Santa Clara short of tying it in the 2-1 win. Jose Mata picked up his first win of the season in relief on Sunday, and the bullpen did not give up a run in either game.

"Well I think it's still a little bit too early to tell," said Tanner. "All of our starters gave us solid outings this weekend. You can say they deserve to start again next weekend maybe they will, but I'd still like to see a little bit more from some other guys. (Several) guys did a nice job and they could all be there in a couple of weeks. We'll just have to see."

When all was said and done, the team finished with a measly 1.67 ERA for the weekend and held Santa Clara to a .198 average to go along with 25 strikeouts.

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