Gamecocks ready for home opener at the Sarge

The South Carolina baseball team will finally come home this weekend after playing the first six games of the season away from the friendly confines of Sarge Frye Field. A 5-1 record is not a bad start, but make no mistake about it, this team wanted six wins and nothing less.



The tournaments taught Ray Tanner's #4 ranked Gamecocks a lot, including how to win close games and how easy it is to blow a lead. The rest of the SEC also learned that it's going to take a lot of runs to beat USC this season.

The Gamecocks are hitting a solid .330 as a team with 13 home runs and a slugging percentage over .600. Leading the way is true freshman Lonnie Chisenhall, who claims a six game hitting streak, a .464 average, and only one strikeout in an impressive start to his Gamecock career. A lot of fans will be amazed by what they see from him this weekend.

After finishing last season on a strong note, junior catcher/DH Phil Disher needs to put a full season together. He's off to a good start with a .409 average, and while 2 home runs in six games may not be what Disher wants, he has a slugging percentage of .864, which is exactly what the Gamecocks are looking for out of him.

Andrew Crisp, James Darnell and Trent Kline all are hitting over .300, which isn't a surprise. However Darnell's team leading four home runs is an added bonus. If Darnell can continue to hit like this, the Gamecocks will be even more dangerous once they hit the heart of the schedule.


PITCHING

It's no surprise that Harris Honeycutt is 2-0, but some may be shocked at the early success of Jay Brown. Other junior college pitchers in the past have needed a little time to get comfortable at this level, but Brown has settled right in. USC fans shouldn't be surprised if Brown ends up as the pitcher of the year for the Gamecocks.

Mike Cisco has been involved in two no decisions and hasn't been great, but hasn't been bad either. A 5.25 ERA is too high, but expect that number to drop over the next few weeks.

The bullpen has been the biggest question mark so far. By no means have they been bad, but there are still more questions than answers. One answer that is clear is that Will Atwood is the number one left hander on the team. However, Atwood may be asked to be the weekday starter soon, which may prohibit his role during the weekend series'.

This leads to the question – Can the Gamecocks afford to remove Atwood from his current role? Yes, he could still come in for an inning or two in weekend play, but Atwood has been asked to go long innings and has been outstanding.

Freshman Blake Cooper has been a nice surprise thus far. Through three innings he has three strike outs, only one walk, and has yet to give up a run. If he continues to progress, he could see an increased role as the season goes on.

A big question still lingers over the head of Wynn Pelzer. Control has always been an issue, and Pelzer needs to step up his game over the next couple of weeks. After displaying so much potential in his first two seasons at USC, the Gamecocks are hoping he can become the dominating but consistent closer they need this season.

Ten players have been used out of the bullpen in the first two weekends of play, and Coach Tanner will continue rotating arms this weekend against Eastern Michigan as the open tryout goes on.


OPPONENT

The Eastern Michigan Eagles are 1-3 this season after losing to East Tennessee State on Tuesday, despite claiming a 7-2 lead at one point. Their one win this season came against Tennessee, although they dropped the other two contests against the Volunteers.

The Eagles are led by senior catcher Derek Lehrman, whose .533 average leads the team. While Lehrman anchors the Eagles' batting order, Eastern Michigan has four other players in the lineup hitting over .400 and with a combined six home runs through four games.

The Eagles will send two right handers and one lefty to the mound this weekend. Left hander Craig Bate owns the one win for the Eagles this year, but the sophomore only went four innings and gave up two earned runs against the Vols. Senior George Biddle should start on Friday, and Senior Matt Dillard is expected to face the Gamecocks on Sunday.


CLARY'S ANALYSIS

There's no reason the Gamecocks shouldn't sweep through the weekend. The Eagles are better than their 1-3 record may indicate, but they don't have the talent that Coach Tanner gets to work with. USC should once again keep their 9.83 runs per game average around that mark this weekend, and look for Cisco to get his first win of the season.

The big question will be the bullpen and if another lefty can step up. Look for Coach Tanner to use a lot of arms and get ready for next week's much anticipated showdown against the Clemson Tigers.

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