Notebook: Georgia Southern Preview

The road to a repeat is finally beginning for South Carolina, who will face Georgia Southern in their first game of the Columbia regional on Friday night. Georgia Southern comes in as champions of the Southern Conference, and are led by sophomore outfielder Victor Roache, the nation's leading home run man. USC ace Michael Roth will answer the call for the Gamecocks on the mound.

It will be a long road to Omaha for the South Carolina Gamecocks. But every long journey begins with a first step, and the first step for USC is waiting in the Georgia Southern Eagles.

Led by head coach Rodney Hennon and slugging outfielder Victor Roache, Georgia Southern will look to make noise early after winning the Southern Conference tournament to earn an NCAA regional bid.

"Like everybody this time of year, we're just awfully glad to still be playing, and excited about the opportunity that we have here this weekend," said Hennon. "(This is) probably the greatest venue in college baseball right now. We had the opportunity to play here back in 2009 and just a great facility, (it's) always a great atmosphere here, so I know our kids are looking forward to that. We're looking forward to tomorrow night."

Roache leads the nation in longballs

One player to keep a particular eye on, even against the normally outstanding Michael Roth, is the nation's leader in home runs, Georgia Southern outfielder Victor Roache.

After hitting just eight home runs in his freshman campaign, the Ypsilanti, Michigan native has exploded this season, currently sitting on 30 home runs and 83 runs batted in. He was recently named as a first team All-American by Louisville Slugger.

"I tell you, it's pretty special," added Hennon. "Obviously I've never had a guy with a season like that. Certainly when we recruited him we felt like he had a chance to be a special player. We certainly had hoped that he would develop into that guy that would give us a presence in the middle of our lineup. Last year like most freshmen he was making the adjustment to pitching on this level. But it's been fun to watch him develop, and he's very deserving of anything he gets."

In a year when home runs are down on a national level due to new NCAA bat regulations, it is even more impressive that Roache was able to set the Georgia Southern and Southern conference record for home runs in a season.

Overall, he is batting .327 with nine doubles, two triples, and a .789 slugging percentage to go along with the thirty longballs.

"Really I think our team has gotten more excited about this run, you know, with him setting the school record and the Southern conference record," said Hennon. "I really think it became a bigger deal to our team and our fans than it really did to Victor. He's just handled himself so well and he's such a humble young man. He's the same guy now as he was last year. He's had success I think because he's had a good approach."

Birds' battles have been close games

Georgia Southern and South Carolina have met in each of the previous two seasons, so there is a little bit of familiarity between the two clubs.

In 2009, the Gamecocks hosted the Eagles and squeaked out a 2-1 extra inning win, while last season's contest in Statesboro also went to USC but was not decided until a 13th inning Brady Thomas triple gave South Carolina a 8-5 victory.

"Certainly I think it gives us some confidence going in," said Hennon. "The two games we've played back here in '09 was a midweek game and (had) some nasty weather. And then last year at our place, a thirteen inning game. And in a lot of ways I think that game kind of epitomized the season for South Carolina. We played pretty good baseball that game, they did as well and it came down to the bullpen, they kept running arms (out of there). I think those are the two things that make them successful, their pitching and defense.

With experience against the Gamecocks, Coach Hennon added that his club has confidence and will just have to play at the top of their game to knock off the number four national seed on Friday.

"I think having played them and played them tough gives our guys some confidence, and we just have to go out and execute."

Roth vs. Eagles

While GSU brings its All-American to town in the form of Victor Roache, USC will counter on Friday night with fellow All-American and Golden Spikes semifinalist Michael Roth. For the year, Roth is 11-3 with an SEC leading 1.17 ERA, but will face an Eagles team that is batting .294 with .443 slugging percentage.

Roth was certainly invaluable for the Gamecocks in the regular season with six SEC wins, but will look to pick up where he left off in the postseason last year, with two dominant starts in the College World Series.

"Well he's an outstanding pitcher obviously," said Hennon. "He's their go to guy, I don't think there's any question about that. I think it's going to be important for us against a guy like him to stay with a good approach against him. And when we do get good opportunities to score, we've got to capitalize on them."

Of course Georgia Southern's players have heard a lot about the USC lefty as they prepare for this game. But players said they are taking a simple approach as they look for success against the Gamecocks' seemingly unsolvable arm.

"Yeah we've heard a lot about him," said GSU shortstop Eric Phillips. "A left-handed thrower with a one-ERA that's unbelievable (that) he played in the SEC. If we go out there and do what we're coached to do, just take the right approach and take what he gives us, I think we'll do okay."

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