PREVIEW: Gamecocks on Rocky Top

The Gamecocks travel to Tennessee for a three-game Thursday, Friday, Saturday series on Rocky Top. Look inside for an in-depth preview of the team the Gamecocks will face when they get there from Gamecock Anthem's John Klauber.

Tennessee Volunteers

Record: 19-10; Home:16-5; Away: 3-5; SEC:2-7. Home field: Lindsay-Nelson Stadium (R-320, C-390, L-320); capacity: 3,800.

The natives are restless… Tennessee baseball to its fans has hit an all-time low. Many are calling for Coach Todd Raleigh's head and have been for about a year now. Many are frustrated the Rob Delmonico was shown the door; the most frustrating thing to most Tennessee baseball fans is the way they are losing their series. First, to lose to Florida in Gainesville by a series score of 23-3 is just unacceptable.

To follow that series loss to Presbyterian College has many fans looking for the ledge. Admittedly, Coach Raleigh's excuse that the Presbyterian game was a "trap" could have its merit; the same PC pitcher (Steven Richardson) used last night was used against Clemson a few weeks ago… with the same result. Honestly, if Coach Raleigh thought getting runs against PC was going to be tough, he might need to batten down the hatches for the pitching he will see this weekend.

Tennessee's hitting as a team is a respectable .304 (.391 on-base percentage), fourth in the SEC, while Carolina is hitting .296 (ninth in the SEC).

Tennessee's team batting average actually dropped .03 points after the Presbyterian game. Tennessee will play aggressive baseball to manufacture runs. Like Kentucky, They rely on getting on base and making things happen with aggressive base running (79 stolen base attempts; 64 stolen bases) and creating situational runners on base (37 hit-by-pitches to our 30; a team total of 107 walks versus Carolina's 132) for the opposing defense to handle. They have stranded (to date) 228 runners while Carolina has stranded (to date) 236 runners.

We will need to hit their starters early and make them play catch-up to our offensive game. First pitch is Thursday night (Michael Roth against Rob Catapano) and our hitters do well against lefties (8-2 overall), but we need a left-handed bat like Jackie Bradley Jr. to get it started. Hopefully, he will be cleared to play for Thursday night because we could use his hitting experience against Catapano on Thursday and Gruver (LHP) the next day. Make no mistake, as bad as this team seems to be as a whole, it is a pretty good hitting team. They are proficient with their fielding as well with a team fielding percentage of .976 (second in the SEC; comparatively, Carolina is #7 in fielding percentage within the SEC.

Right now, Khayyan Norfolk is the #1 hitter in the SEC with over 50 at bat appearances. He is a threat to steal when on base as he has stolen 20 bases out of 23 attempts, highest SB-Att ratio in the SEC. His teammate, Andrew Toles, is currently #4 in the SEC with stolen bases at 14-17.You can figure that Khayyan will get on base every other time at bat (.518 on base percentage). He is currently tied with Anthony Gomez at 45 hits, the highest number of hits in the SEC. He is #4 with RBI in the SEC; his teammate, Matt Duffy, is currently #2 in RBI. He is the team leader when it pertains to Tennessee offense and will be a guy our pitching staff will handle with care. Typically, he has been their leadoff man, but lately (during the Florida series) he was used as their 3-hole hitter.

Should Khayyan Norfolk come in against us as their number 3, we will see Toles (bats left) or Lyles (bats right) rotated as their 1, 2 hitters in the top of their line-up. They will probably match a left-handed hitter with a left-handed pitcher and vice-versa. Their 1-4 hitters all average over .300; all are capable of setting the table for hitters behind them. Their batting order will challenge any pitching staff and their hitters are a tad better than what we saw last weekend, so our guys will have to be on their toes.

Here is their batting order, but is subject to change. As Kentucky, they have a player that figures in as a starter. Matt Ramsey is played as a catcher and a DH, but is called on to pitch relief. He did get his first start Sunday against Florida, but the end result may keep him from repeating the same against us on Saturday…

8, Khayyan Norfolk 2B (R/R, SR.); .405BA, 111AB, 25R, 45H, 3HR, 28RBI, 22W, 14K (.518 obp).

1, Andrew Toles CF (L/R, Fr.); .301BA, 113AB, 23r, 34h, 1HR, 19RBI, 3w, 14k (.336 obp).

13, Matt Duffy 3B (R/R, Sr.); .373BA, 102AB, 25r, 38h, 5HR, 30RBI, 18w, 12k (.516 obp).

33, Josh Lyles 1B (R/R, Sr.); .288BA, 104AB, 19r, 30h, 18RBI, 18w, 11k (.402 obp).

12, Charlie Thurber RF (L/L, Jr.); .233BA, 73AB, 5r, 17h, 2HR, 8RBI, 4w, 20k (.282 obp).

21 Ethan Bennett C (R/R, Fr.); .305BA, 59AB, 15r, 18h, 4HR, 19RBI, 8w, 9k (.400 obp).

28 Matt Ramsey DH/C/P (RHP, R/R, Jr.); .244BA, 90AB, 13r, 22h, 4RBI, 7w, 7k (.320 obp).

7, Chris Fritts LF (R/R, So.); .266BA, 64AB, 15r, 17h, 2HR, 11RBI, 6w, 11k (.333 obp).

2, Zach Osbourne SS (R/R, Jr.); .337BA, 98AB, 20r, 33h, 1HR, 15RBI, 12w, 9k (.412 obp).

43, Davis Morgan DH (R/R, Jr.); .277BA, 47AB, 11r, 13h, 4RBI, 4w, 10k (.358 obp).

10, Tyler Horne DH/1B (R/R, Sr.); .258BA, 62AB, 8r, 16h, 1HR, 14RBI, 1w, 10k (.284 obp).

9, Chris Pierce LF (R/R, Jr.); .225BA, 40AB, 10r, 9h, 1HR, 4RBI, 4w, 12k (.354 obp).

44, Wes Walker, C (R/R, Jr.); .400BA, 5AB, 2h, 2RBI, 2k (.400 obp).

TOTAL:

Tennessee (team) Batting Average: .304;
Opposition: .278.

Tennessee (team) On-Base Percentage: .391;
Opposition: .367.

Pitching…. If Tennessee has a chink in their armor, it would have to be within their pitching staff. Their cumulative earned run average as a team is 4.17 (tenth in the SEC); comparatively, Carolina is #3 in the SEC (2.73 Team ERA). They are void of a starting top 10 pitcher within the SEC, but have a solid closer in Matt Ramsey (their catcher and DH), who possesses 3 saves for the Vols. Gone from last year are several starters; Steven McCray (RHP, Friday) and Bryan Morgado (LHP, Sunday) and Steven Crnkovich (RHP; fourth weekend/high relief starter). Steven Gruver (LHP; currently a Saturday starter) returns from last year's duties as a Volunteer starter to compete for a slot on this year's rotation.

Rob Catapano (LHP, Sr.) gets the Thursday start (typically Friday) for the Vols. Catapano has had an injury-plagued career while at Tennessee. He has undergone two bone spur surgeries (2009 and last Summer) and transferred from North Carolina in 2008. Catapano comes in with a reliable fastball, curveball and change-up. He will use his fastball to set the other two pitches up and is fairly confident in all three pitches. The best thing you can do against him is to hit him early and often because if he gets in a groove he has proven that he can go 95-100 pitches (at least seven innings).

Friday's starter will most likely be Steven Gruver, the most experienced of starters on the Tennessee pitching staff. Gruver will throw a lot of off- speed pitches in an attempt to keep batters off balance. With this style the approach is to induce a lot of pop-ups and ground-outs, so when he is on the mound his defense has to pick up their play. This will allow Gruver to go for quite a spell on the mound; he averages well over 100 (@ 106) pitches/appearance. He has pitched one full game against Manhattan University early this year, but has been pressed with SEC opposition. He gave up 10 hits and 4 runs against Florida last Saturday in Gainesville. He is the type of pitcher that Carolina has struggled with and the key is to jump on him early and get to their bullpen.

Given the Vols current SEC record of 2-7 and recent loss to PC, we are likely to see Matt Ramsey take the mound on Saturday, as he did against Florida last weekend. Ramsey, one of five Farragut Academy (Knoxville) pitchers on this staff ,was one of the Vols favorites as a reliever last year. He has seen time on the bump this year as a reliever too. But "needs" outweigh reality and they need Ramsey as a starter.

Ramsey has a big fastball (clocked by pro scouts at 96 mph), but at that speed it loses a lot of its movement. Ramsey gets better results when he can keep it in the lower 90's; he has excellent velocity on his fastball. He has a low 80's curveball that is a plus pitch for him. Ramsey spent most of last summer working on his throwing motion. That could mean his pitches have become a little more difficult to read coming from his hand.

Pitchers that Tennessee will rely upon for relief duty will be Nick Blount (usually a #2 weekend reliever, RHP), Hunter Daniel (#3 reliever, LHP), Nick Williams (#3-4 Freshman reliever, RHP) and Zack Godley (#4-5 reliever, RHP). Most average an ERA of mid 3.00s to low 5.00s. The best thing you can do is to get to the starting pitchers early and get into their bullpen. That is exactly what Florida was able to do… and Ole Miss in Knoxville two weekends ago (Ole Miss took two out of three, losing their only game to Catapano on Saturday). Here is a look at their pitching staff and their number thus far for this year…

17, Rob Catapano (LHP, L/L, Sr.); 3.18ERA, 2-1, 22.2IP, 23h, 9r(9e), 6w, 16k (.274 oba).

30, Steven Gruver (LHP, L/L, Jr.); 3.04ERA, 3-3, 47.1IP, 45h, 17r(16e), 10w, 49k (.257 oba).

28, Matt Ramsey (RHP, R/R, Jr.); 1.17ERA, 0-1, 3SV, 7.2IP, 2h, 1r(1e), 5w, 13k (.083 oba).

32, Levi Dean (RHP, R/R, Jr.); .266ERA, 4-1, 1SV, 23.2IP, 25h, 9r(7e), 10w, 16k (.278 oba).

25, Carter Watson (RHP, R/R, Fr.); 3.63ERA, 5-1, 22.1IP, 15h, 11r(9e), 15w, 12k (.200 oba).

41, Nick Blount (RHP, R/R, So.); 3.38ERA, 0-0, 1SV, 16.IP, 18h, 9r(6e), 3w, 1k (.295 oba).

15, Zack Godley (RHP, R/R, So.); 4.08ERA, 0-0, 2SV, 17.2IP, 24h, 9r(8e), 10w, 22k (.338 oba).

19, Hunter Daniel (LHP, L/L, R.S.So.); 5.40ERA, 0-0, 6.2IP, 7h, 4r(4e), 3w, 5k (.280 oba).

20, Drew Steckenrider (RHP, S/R, So.); 9.00ERA, 1-0, 1SV, 20.0IP, 25h, 21r(20e), 16w, 21k (.342 oba).

24, T.J. Thornton (LHP, L/L, Jr.); 3.00ERA, 1-0, 1SV, 12.IP, 13h, 4r(4e), 6w, 12k (.302 oba).

37, Jon Reed (RHP, R/R, R.S.Fr.); 4.91ERA, 1-0, 22.IP, 24h, 12r(12e), 10w, 8k (.286 oba).

29, Nick Williams (RHP, R/R, Fr.); 5.65ERA, 1-1, 1SV, 14.1IP, 16h, 11r(9e), 4w, 16k (.271 oba).

31, Dalton Saberhagen (LHP, L/L, Fr.); 1.80ERA, 1-0, 10.IP, 10h, 2r(2e), 4w, 10k (.263 oba).

Total:

Tennessee (team) Earned Run Average: 4.17;
Opposition: 6.09

Tennessee (team) opponent on base average: .275;
Opposition: .307

Make no mistake… the Gamecocks need this series. It is the final SEC series before we face the "next" #1 ranked team in the nation, Vanderbilt, in the comfy confines of Carolina Stadium. Come out with 2 out of 3 and mission accomplished. Particularly if one considers the number of injuries we have with first team players and some of our solid pitchers. It is important for the morale and psyche of our guys to come out on top in this series away from home… just as it was in Gainesville a few weeks ago.

Our match-up kicks off the SEC/ESPN College Baseball Game of the Week series on Thursday evening on ESPNU (7:30pm).

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