Gamecocks draw Wofford in regional opener
The first issue addressed was a mistake on the part of the NCAA putting Jacksonville up against South Carolina and Wofford against North Carolina. The correct bracket should actually switch those teams. It will be Wofford in Columbia and Jacksonville in Chapel Hill.
"Wofford, with the run they've made recently (winning) five in a row in the Southern Conference," said Tanner. "They lead the country now in home runs, not us. It's a great field."
For most of the season, the Gamecocks had been battling Wofford for home run supremacy across the nation. Wofford was ahead; then the Gamecocks snatched back the lead until the tournaments started. The SEC plays their tournament in the equivalent of the Grand Canyon, while the Southern Conference plays in "The Joe" in Charleston.
"The Joe," for example, is 398 feet to dead center field. Regions Park in Hoover, Alabama is 405 feet. "The Joe" is 305 in left field and 337 in right with the power alleys measuring 366 and 356. Regions Park is 340 to left, 340 in right, with the power alleys each ending after 385 feet.
When they were playing on the same field, however, the Gamecocks won both games by a combined score of 21-1. Though the gentlemanly Gamecock Head Coach Ray Tanner compliments all opponents, the numbers tell a different story. "They're dangerous, no question about it. I called Coach Traylor and left him a message after he won the SoCon Championship the other night. … I'm so happy for him," said Tanner. "We developed a relationship when he was head coach at Duke, and certainly when he went to Wofford, we've played. I'm not looking forward to playing them."
He continued with his praise, "They are on a roll. They are a great club, a tremendous offensive club. We might have pitched as well against them as them as we have anybody we've pitched against all year as far as their offensive output and being able to contain them. Now we're catching them on a roll. We are going to treat them like we are playing a national seed."
South Carolina's record is 42-18, including a 24-6 home record and an SEC record of 17-13. Wofford is 30-31 on the season with a Southern Conference record of 8-19.
Facing the Texas Buzz Saw, Jess Todd of Arkansas and Duke Welker, while getting the better of Florida in between, could be a blessing in disguise. After seeing the filth Jess Todd whipped across the plate, the consistent spotting of Welker and some rock solid bullpen pitching from Florida, the Terriers' staff might seem as though they're throwing beach balls up to home plate.
The lowest ERA on the Terrier staff is that of Ben Austin, who sports a 4.03 ERA. Austin will probably be the starter Friday. Mike Gilmartin, a reliever, is next with a 4.45 ERA. After these two pitchers, the statistics get fat and unhealthy. No one else has an ERA lower than 6.68.
The one player the Terriers have who needs to be handled with tremendous care is West Columbia native and Airport High School graduate Brandon Waring. Waring posted the most impressive numbers anyone the gamecocks have faced this season - .405, 27 HR and 73 RBI. His on-base percentage is a ridiculous .520.
"Brandon Waring has had a great year. He's a tremendous talent. He has enhanced his draft status tremendously. He hit five home runs in the SoCon Tournament. We're going to treat him like (Arkansas') Danny Hamblin," said Tanner, "We're going to treat him like (Florida's) Matt LaPorta. We're going to be extremely careful with him. He is one of the most impressive players in the country right now."
With a third baseman like Waring, one who can tie the game with one snap of the wrists, the Gamecocks need to come out swinging aggressively. Regions Park may not have helped their confidence, but remember the dimensions. If that tournament was played in Columbia, Justin Smoak would have had three home runs while Phil Disher, James Darnell and Andrew Crisp all would have had one each.
"I think we're good enough to win, but we have to play well. We're not good enough to make a lot of mistakes and have breakdowns and still win it," said Coach Tanner. "If we play the way we are capable of, we should be in the thick of things. You never can tell. We've got some very good teams in this field and I'm sure they want to play their best as well."
It takes more than one player to make the Terriers the Pound Puppies. The Terriers field the Southern Conference's version of a Gamecock offense. Gilmartin has 13 HR and hits .324, while Shane Kirkley hits .317 with 16 HR. John Brandt has hit 14 HR while hitting .304.
In the first game they played this season, Brandon Waring's solo home run off of Jeff Jeffords in the fourth accounted for their only run as the Terriers scattered four other hits through nine innings. The Gamecocks, however, homered three times, scored 13 runs and had 14 hits.
In their second match-up of the season, the four big hitters mentioned above were a combined 1- 14. Super-frosh Blake Cooper got the better of them enroute to 5.1 innings of shut out baseball.
The Gamecocks scored eight runs on ten hits that day, with James Darnell hitting his second home run against the Terriers on the season. The Gamecocks also stole three bases that night.
Wofford was 19-19 after that game and finished the season 30-31. Since the second Carolina game they are 11-12, with five of those wins coming in this past week's Southern Conference Tournament.
For Wofford to continue their magic act, they're going to have to put forth their best showing of the season. Will the Pound Puppies show up or will the Gamecocks simply send them to the pound?
The game will be held at The Sarge at 7pm Friday evening. NC State plays UNC Charlotte at 2pm the same day.
As for the pitching match-ups being written in stone, Coach Tanner said, "It's a little bit early. I would imagine it would be (Harris) Honeycutt, (Arik) Hempy, probably in that order. We may have some (Mike) Cisco conversation, but it's a little bit too early to tell right now."
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