Analysis: Gamecocks Ready For SEC Opener
The Gamecocks enter conference play on a five game winning streak and with hopes of continuing their early season success against the rugged SEC slate. As a squad with legitimate SEC title aspirations and the knowledge that a grueling schedule still lies ahead, USC will look for the sweep this weekend against the slumping LSU program.
The Tigers are a disappointing 12-7 this season and are clearly not what the LSU faithful have come to expect out of their former perennial powerhouse progam.
The Gamecocks, on the other hand, come into this weekend riding high. Led by the red hot bat of Justin Smoak, the Gamecocks have raised their team batting average back over .300. Carolina has six players hitting over .300, led by junior slugger Phil Disher at .339.
Disher and freshman standout Lonnie Chisenhall have seen their averages drop the past few weeks, but I'd be shocked if their woes continued past this weekend.
Reese Havens is beginning to come out of his season long slump, as the sophomore infielder had four hits on Tuesday and a sacrifice fly and two RBI's on Wednesday. His average is still only .218, but it's on the way up. If Havens can get his average to around .270, the Gamecocks will be in really good shape.
Andrew Crisp is beginning to swing a hot bat at the right time. The 2006 Freshman All-American raised his average nearly 40 points last week, and if he gets over .300 this weekend, Gamecock fans will be happy with the overall outcome.
Former JUCO standout Harley Lail has been the surprise of the year for the Gamecocks. His current .474 batting average is setting the tone every night, and he'll need to continue doing the same thing this weekend. When Lail gets on, opposing pitchers are forced to pitch to the punishing trio of Chisenhall, Smoak, and Disher.
It's a different game when Lail is hitting well.
Junior pitcher Harris Honeycutt, who has been the ace of the Gamecocks' staff thus far, is back after taking a weekend off, and he is set to get the start Friday night. Honeycutt should throw seven strong innings, but the crucial ones will be the first two. Since he hasn't pitched in two weeks, Honeycutt will need to make sure any rust that's there gets out early.
Sophomore righthander Mike Cisco once again gets the start on Saturday. Cisco's outings are usually determined by how well he does in the first inning, and when he's on, his success is due to his sterling strikeout to walk ratio: 28 Ks and only 4 BBs.
If Cisco, who is 2-0 with a 2.59 ERA on the young season, continues his solid play, Gamecock fans should expect the same outcome... another win.
A question still remains about who will start on Sunday, as Arik Hempy was said to be ready to go, but has since been pushed back to Tuesday. All signs point to freshman righthander Blake Cooper, who started against Brown last weekend. If Carolina wins the first two games of the series, Head Coach Ray Tanner will feel more comfortable going to a freshman on Sunday.
The Tigers are not what they once were, but by no means are they a bad baseball team. LSU does pose some problems for the Gamecocks, and it starts with their Friday night starting pitcher, Charlie Furbush.
Furbush (3-1) is a lefty with a good curveball and has a 2.61 ERA. Furbush gets into trouble when he starts walking batters, and the Gamecocks have done an excellent job this season of being patient at the plate. Furbush has 11 walks and 28 Ks in 31 innings.
Jared Bradford has been LSU's best pitcher so far this season. Bradford, who is also 3-1 on the year, has recently stepped into a starting role and could be the emotional boost the Tigers need.
Bradford likes to go after hitters and has done a nice job of getting ahead in the count. Aggressive hitters like Smoak have a chance to have a good day against him.
T.J Forrest is a surprise starter for the Tigers on Sunday. Forrest (1-0) has started two games but has only pitched six innings on the year. Forrest is a true freshman who will be facing the best lineup he's ever seen.
Junior second baseman Chris Jackson and freshman rightfielder Jared Mitchell set the tone for the Tigers at the plate. Mitchell leads the team with a .325 batting average and between the two of them, they are 16-17 stealing bases. It will be important for the Gamecock pitching staff to keep these guys off the base path.
LSU doesn't have too much power, hitting only 15 long balls this season compared to Carolina's 26. Freshman catcher Sean Ochinko leads the Tigers with four, but only has a .224 average. If Ochinko and leftfielder Blake Dean get the bats going, the Gamecocks could have their hands full.
If the Tigers get into tight situations, they'll turn to reliever Nolan Cain. Cain is a right hander who's appeared in nine of the Tigers' fifteem games and has a 2.79 ERA.
Other than Furbush, the Tigers have only walked 39 batters this season, a solid number through 15 games. The Gamecocks are going to have to come out swinging, or they'll find themselves behind in the count all weekend.
The theme for this weekend is: set the tone. LSU is struggling, and any confidence boost they can get is big. All three starting pitchers for USC this weekend need good starts, or the bullpen will be called upon a lot.
The Gamecocks have the advantage in the bullpen and at the plate, so if the starters can give six solid innings of work, Carolina should emerge from the weekend with a series sweep.
Look for Carolina to be aggressive at the plate, and at least one game this weekend will feature close to 10 runs for the Gamecocks.
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