Streaking Yardcocks head to Baton Rouge

The Gamecocks travel to Baton Rouge this weekend to take on the LSU Tigers. Winners of 11 of their last 12, Carolina (31-11, 11-7 SEC) is ranked as high as 7th in the country. On the other hand, LSU (25-16-1, 6-11-1 SEC) has not had as much success this season, and enters the series unranked and losers of three of their last four SEC series.


Combine that with the recent history between these two teams, and Carolina has to be favored entering the weekend. Last year in Columbia the Gamecocks took two out of three games to win their third straight series against the Tigers. Carolina swept the previous two series in Baton Rouge, in 2005 and 2006, although coach Ray Tanner said there is no magic formula he has figured out for winning at LSU.

"I don't think you can explain it," he said. "We must've been pretty good at the time. If you play well, you've got a chance to win games, and if you don't, you're not going to win. It's real simple."

This will be the final trip to the "old" Alex Box Stadium for the Gamecocks. Like Sarge Frye Field, "The Box" will be replaced next season with a new stadium, the similarly titled, "New Alex Box Stadium." Tanner does not think the final trip will mean much to the Gamecocks, but he remembers his first trip. Tanner was a coach under former LSU coach Skip Bertman on the 1995-96 USA National Baseball team that won the bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics.

"It was pretty emotionally the first time when I got to go down and play against Coach Bertman," Tanner said. "That was a special time."

The Gamecocks will start the same weekend pitchers they have all season. RHP Mike Cisco (5-1, 3.99 ERA) will start Friday, LHP Will Atwood (4-2, 4.02 ERA) goes on Saturday, and RHP Blake Cooper (5-3, 3.05 ERA) rounds out the weekend. LSU's Friday starter is lefty Blake Martin (1-3, 5.14 ERA), RHP Jordan Brown (3-0, 4.00 ERA) goes Saturday, and Ryan Verdugo (6-3, 3.12 ERA) will take the mound Sunday. Martin's record and ERA are not that impressive, but he does have 51 strikeouts in 49 innings pitched, a stat that has Tanner's attention.

"They have juggled their rotation a little bit," he said. "Martin is 1-3, but he's struck out more than innings pitched and hasn't given up many hits. They've lost some close games, and we know if we don't play well, we're not going to win."

Martin and the rest of the LSU staff will have the unenviable task of trying to cool off the Gamecock bats. Carolina is 25-0 this season when scoring six or more runs, and is averaging just over seven runs per game during the winning streak. Especially dangerous is first baseman Justin Smoak, the school record holder and team leader in home runs. Twice in the last seven games, Smoak has hit three homers in a game, tying the school record for home runs in a game, and joining teammate James Darnell as the only player to hit three homers in a game more than once.

"You just sit back and admire an athlete that can go out and do something beyond normal," said Tanner. "Whether it's a guy in football or a guy that scores 40-50 points a game (in basketball), there's only a few athletes that can do things like that. He's very special."

Carolina has just two non-conference games remaining this season, at Wofford on May 7, and against The Citadel May 13. That means the Gamecocks are finished with playing five games a week, something they were forced to do this year because of a change in scheduling rules. Tanner was against the idea of playing a pair of midweek games, but Carolina has fared very well in those games. The Gamecocks are 13-3 overall in mid-week games, and 11-2 when they played more than one game during the week.

"We've survived the mid-week pretty well," Tanner said. "There's a lot of other teams around the country that are good baseball teams but they only have 24-25 wins right now because they haven't been able to handle the mid-week as well. We've done something in the mid-week that has been good for us. We've stuck with two guys, [Nick] Godwin and [Sam] Dyson. In hindsight, that might have been our biggest advantage."


Notes:

- LSU's record includes a seldom-seen quirk in college baseball: a tie. The Tigers played a 10-10 tie against Georgia last Sunday. The game was called after 12 innings because the Tigers had to catch a flight back to Baton Rouge.

- Andrew Crisp, who returned to action against Furman, was a question mark to board the team bus to the airport, but it had nothing to do with his injured back. He had a lab he had to finish before the end of classes on Monday. "He may end up meeting us at the airport, but hopefully he'll be okay," Tanner said.

- First pitch is scheduled for 8 PM Friday, 4 PM Saturday, and 2 PM Sunday (all times eastern). Gametracker will not be available from gamecocksonline.com, but will be on lsusports.net.


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