South Carolina All-American left-hander Michael Roth knows what life in the Southeastern Conference is like.
But when No. 2 South Carolina travels to No. 16 Kentucky this weekend, at least five of the Gamecocks' starters will experience SEC play for the first time.
"You've got to come out everyday and be ready to play," Roth says of life in the league. "No matter who you're playing, you're still playing that white ball. We're just going in there [and] we're going to try to win the series like we [try to] do every weekend."
The senior, who currently holds a 0.93 ERA, makes it sound pretty easy. He has as much positive experience as any player in the conference. Roth mowed down opponents last season to the tune of a 1.06 ERA and a 14-3 record as the Gamecocks captured their second straight national title.
But his experience in the conference pales in comparison to his coach Ray Tanner who is in his 16th season at South Carolina. Tanner has warned his young Gamecocks about what the 30-game stretch of conference play will be like.
"I can remember when I first got into the league, I kind of thought some of the coaches liked playing me," Tanner said. "And we got a little bit better, Ole Miss got a little bit better, Vandy got better. And then all of a sudden you didn't look forward to playing anybody -- everybody could beat you, they could fight you.
"There (are) no weekends where you went in saying, 'Oh, we'll get two, we'll win the series.' That doesn't happen in our league; no one thinks that way."
South Carolina has made conference play look easy with a combined 43-17 record the last two seasons. But with new starters at catcher, second base, shortstop, third base, left field and designated hitter, this is a much different team than those two.
Tanner says he wants his young players to just go play the game. He wants them as comfortable as possible and not scared to make mistakes, because those are inevitable in baseball.
Roth believes they can draw on experience from another series earlier this year.
"I think they got a little taste when we played Clemson," he says of the series South Carolina took from its archrival. "That's the most SEC-like competition [we've played]. Also with the crowd and stuff like that. Normally Kentucky crowds aren't too crazy, but you know they're on a hot streak right now so maybe their fans will come out and get on us pretty good."
For the record, Roth -- who rarely seems worried or fazed by much of anything -- is extremely confident in his young teammates.
"I think these young guys will be fine. They're great. The way they approach the game is fantastic."
As good as the Gamecocks have been the last two seasons, they actually started conference play last year on a sour note when they dropped a close game to Georgia. This team knows how important it is to get the three-game series with Kentucky off to a positive start.
"That's what we're focused on right now, just winning the first game," Roth says. "The first game of an SEC series is very important. I remember last year we dropped the first SEC game to Georgia and this year we'd like to start it off right."
It won't be easy against a much-improved Kentucky team. South Carolina took all three games from the Wildcats last season in Columbia, but did drop two of three games the last time they were in Lexington.
The Wildcats aren't usually considered one of the league's premier teams, but with an 18-0 start to the season they do hold the title as the country's hottest team.
"That's impressive," Roth said. "Hopefully come Friday night, they won't be undefeated anymore. That's our goal.
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