Notebook: Gamecocks take on Roadrunners

Cal-State Bakersfield has made the long journey from the Pacific coast, and will invade Carolina Stadium for a three game series with the Gamecocks this weekend. South Carolina is coming off a hard fought and emotional series victory against Clemson, and will look to keep things rolling in their final weekend action before conference play begins.

The Gamecocks will put their 9-1 record on the line this weekend when they face the Cal-State Bakersfield Roadrunners in a three game series in Columbia. Bakersfield enters the game with an 11-3 mark and had a ten game win streak snapped with a loss to Fresno State on Tuesday night.

"They're an excellent team, there's no question about that, from top to bottom" said Ray Tanner on Thursday. "Their ERA's under two, they've got (Jeremy) Rodriguez behind the plate, who is highly touted as a catcher. They've beaten Arizona State, they swept Washington, the beat Washington State, they beat Kansas. They're excellent, they're a tremendous team, and we've got our hands full, no doubt about it. They're not going to sneak up on us."

Moving past the Tigers

By now it's no secret just how big this past series against Clemson really was. With several intense games as well as some controversy mixed in, it's safe to say the Gamecocks are thrilled with taking two out of three from the Tigers and moving on with their season.

And even though USC did win the series, they are still looking to stay hungry, just as a series loss to Clemson last year set the tone for their determined play the rest of the season that eventually led to a national championship.

"Yes I'm relieved that all that's behind us," said Tanner. "That being said, the three games we played against Clemson was like another conference weekend. Very intense, a quality team, a top ten team, and you're going to be in a lot of those in the SEC. I think those games help you grow, they help you understand where you are, (but) it's behind us now. We've got a lot of baseball ahead of us."

The Gamecocks will need to move past that series fast if they are going to take the Roadrunners as seriously as they say they are. CSB enters this weekend with a #30 national ranking in the Collegiate Baseball poll.

Walker continuing to rise up

Christian Walker had an excellent freshman season. In addition to solid numbers despite some struggles early on at the plate, he also helped lead USC to the College World Series title with his big bat and strong leadership.

This season Walker appears to be smashing his way through the notion of a sophomore slump, and has simply put up excellent numbers as he continues to lead a Gamecock team ranked in the top ten nationally.

"I think part of the thing with him right now, although he's still a young player, he's mature and he's maturing as we go," said Tanner. "Thrown into this environment as a true freshman last year, that's a daunting challenge. And he got out of the blocks, then he had a (tough) weekend at East Carolina and that set him back a little bit. He's maturing quickly, and he believes in his ability and as I've said before, of all the guys that I've coached in my career, his hand eye coordination's really special. As a hitter you have to make adjustments, and he can adjust. He's certainly done that in our first ten games."

Walker is leading the Southeastern Conference with a .528 batting average and has eight multi-hit games this year.

Rotation shakeup

Although this year's starting rotation has been a pleasant surprise, it appears that Tanner and pitching coach Jerry Meyers will attempt to shake things up this weekend before heading into the gauntlet that is a 30-game SEC schedule.

They will still stick with Friday night starter Michael Roth, who will put his perfect 3-0 record and sparkling 1.40 ERA on the line tonight. But after that, Gamecock fans will see changes as lefthander Steven Neff gets his first weekend start of the year and coaches choose between Tyler Webb and Forrest Koumas and Tyler Webb on Sunday.

"Well I don't think it's anything having to do with not being happy with Tyler, Tyler's got pretty good numbers," said Tanner. "We feel like we've got to get Neff in a better situation and he pitched really well in the preseason, he kind of got relegated to the bullpen because of his experience coming from the bullpen. He might have deserved an opportunity to start that he didn't get. Adam Westmoreland has pitched well, I thought he did a great job for us on Tuesday night. I hope that Coach Meyers and I have problems going forward about who are guys are. But it just seems like the right thing to do right now."

Neff brings a 1-0 record and a 4.32 ERA while Koumas is 1-0 with a 4.26 earned run average.

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