USC travels to Arkansas for key SEC series
With only the top eight teams making the SEC Tournament, Both the Gamecocks and the Razorbacks are in a precarious situation. With a 13-11 record, Carolina is currently in the SEC Tournament, while at 10-13 in conference play, Arkansas is currently on the outside looking in. However, less than three games separate the "ins" and the "outs," so a series win would change everything.
"There's a sense of urgency," said Ray Tanner. "There's a lot of pressure on every team in our league right now. We need to go have a great weekend at Arkansas."
For the first time this season, the Gamecocks have made a change to the weekend pitching rotation. Instead of junior right-hander Mike Cisco, lefty Will Atwood will take the mound Friday night. Atwood has been the season-long Saturday starter, and senior Nick Godwin will start in his place. Godwin has been a midweek starter, and pitched out of the bullpen. Blake Cooper will start on Sunday, his usual spot.
Tanner said Godwin has pitched well enough to earn a chance to start this weekend. Of the three weekend starters, Cisco has had the least success recently. The decision to make Atwood the Friday starter was based on his experience.
"We decided that Nick Godwin had to be in there," he said. "He's a guy that's had a great year for us. He needs an opportunity to pitch on the weekend. In my estimation, Mike was the guy to replace. He can come out of the bullpen, and he can deal with not pitching. He's had a couple of rough outings, but in no way am I giving up on him or thinking he's not ready. It's more of a case that I think Nick Godwin needs to be inserted in an SEC weekend."
Even though being named the Friday starter is a move that carries a good deal of weight, Atwood seemed very unaffected when he spoke to the media. He said several times that it is "the same game" whether he pitches Friday or Saturday.
"Some people may make it out to be, but there is really no change in mindset," Atwood said. "It's really no different. You just kind of take it [with] a grain of salt."
Cisco's role out of the bullpen has not been decided. Tanner said he will consider using Cisco as long relief, short relief, or even as a closer. Tanner also said that the coaching staff will revisit the rotation next weekend, and Cisco could move back into a starting role.
"He's the heart and soul of this program," Tanner said of Cisco. "He's going to do whatever he can, whenever he can, to help this program be successful. I met with him a couple of times, and I was probably more concerned about it than he was."
Cisco admitted he was not happy with the move, but said he is prepared to come out of the bullpen if he is called. He also stressed that there is nothing wrong physically, and his arm is fine.
"It's not really my decision," he said. "I'm just here to do whatever is best to help the team win. I want to win as bad as everyone else on the team. Whenever I get in there I'm going to do my best to help put the team in a position to win."
Catcher Kyle Enders sat out the last two games with a sore arm but is expected to play this weekend. Enders has felt soreness in the back of his upper arm when he throws since the LSU series. There was no structural damage, so the coaches decided to rest him rather than let him play through it.
"We're hoping he's ready to go," said Tanner. "We've been able to rest him. He had a pretty good practice on Monday, and was a little bit sore [Wednesday]."
If Enders cannot play, Phil Disher will start behind the plate. As a precaution, freshman catcher Sam Mahoney was added to the active roster for the trip, along with Richard Royal, the usual third catcher.
SC Will Atwood, Jr. (LHP) 5-2, 4.33 ERA, 62.1 IP, 51 K, 25 BB
ARK Justin Wells, Jr. (RHP) 3-1, 5.52 ERA, 62.0 IP, 57 K, 19 BB
SC Nick Godwin, Sr. (RHP) 5-2, 2.48 ERA, 65.1 IP, 61 K, 16 BB
ARK Cliff Springston, Jr. (LHP) 5-2, 4.00 ERA, 69.2 IP, 55 K, 22 BB
SC Blake Cooper, So. (RHP) 5-4, 3.72 ERA, 67.2 IP, 34 K, 19 BB
- Arkansas leads the all-time series between the two schools 24-18.
- The two teams did not play during the regular season last year, but met twice in the SEC Tournament. The Razorbacks won both games, 6-0 on May 24, and 3-2 two days later.
- Because the Gamecocks are taking a commercial flight to Fayetteville, the game on Sunday will have a "curfew." The teams will not be allowed to start an inning after a certain time. That time has not been decided, but is likely to be around 3:30, so Carolina can catch its 6:05 flight.
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