Carolina-UT to face off in final SEC series

Carolina's 2008 baseball season is on the line this weekend against Tennessee. If the Gamecocks win two games, they will qualify for the SEC Tournament and have a chance to qualify for an NCAA Regional. Two losses and they are out of the SEC Tournament and probably done for the year. Read inside for a full preview of this weekend's crucial series.


With so much riding on this series, the Gamecocks (35-18, 13-14 SEC) must walk a fine line between approaching the games with appropriate intensity and becoming overwhelmed by the situation. Speaking on Wednesday, several players talked about how crucial the series is, but added that every weekend is difficult. Ray Tanner said he likes the attitude in the clubhouse.

"I thought our dugout was great [Tuesday] night," he said. "I think the maturity on this team will pay dividends this weekend. We've still got to go out and play, but I don't think it's going to be a situation where these guys panic."

Carolina will go with the same pitching rotation as it did for the Arkansas series. That means junior Mike Cisco will once again be in the bullpen. Tanner cautioned that because every game is essentially a must win game, he will not hesitate to turn to one of his starters for key innings out of the bullpen. If that were to happen, Cisco could be called on to start on Saturday or Sunday.

"This weekend is obviously very different than weekends past," said Tanner. "Should a game dictate something else, I will not hesitate to use either of those guys. I think Cisco, with his mentality, […] may be better suited this weekend to come out of the bullpen."

Carolina has struggled mightily this season on the road. The Gamecocks are 10-11 overall on the road, but just 4-11 in the SEC, including three sweeps. Tanner called the road record "exactly why we are in this predicament."

"I think typically you are not quite as good on the road, but we have been bad on the road," Tanner said. "We haven't held our own at all."

Fortunately, USC is 25-7 at home, the second best home record in the SEC behind Kentucky. Tennessee (26-27, 11-16 SEC) comes to Columbia with the only losing record in the Eastern Division, but they too still have hopes of making the SEC Tournament. The Vols had lost nine straight games before winning at Furman Tuesday night. The win in Greenville was just the fifth road win of the season for Tennessee, which bodes well for the Gamecocks in their final home stand at Sarge Frye Field.

"I don't think there would be any circumstance where you would rather be on the road than at home," said Tanner. "Especially here, I know our fans will come out and try to help us make a difference this weekend."


Notes:

- The Gamecocks lead the all-time series between the two schools 36-31.

- Carolina took two of three games against the Volunteers in Knoxville last season.

- Several events are being held this week for the final series at Sarge Frye Field. Former coach June Raines will throw out the first pitch Thursday night, and then on Friday there will be a fireworks display after the game. Before the final game on Saturday, free shuttles will take fans to see the new stadium. The shuttles will pick up fans in front of the Roost from 2:00 PM to 4:00PM. Also, the first players to play at the Sarge, along with the family of Sarge Frye, will be honored before the game.

Starting pitchers:

Thursday

SC Will Atwood, Jr. (LHP) 5-2, 4.72 ERA, 68.2 IP, 57 K, 26 BB

UT Nick Hernandez, So. (LHP) 1-5, 5.54 ERA, 74.2 IP, 55 K, 8 BB

Friday

SC Nick Godwin, Sr. (RHP) 5-3, 3.00 ERA, 72.0 IP, 64 K, 18 BB

UT Bryan Morgado, Fr. (LHP) 5-4, 4.04 ERA, 75.2 IP, 100 K, 32 BB

Saturday

SC Blake Cooper, So. (RHP) 5-5, 3.84 ERA, 75.0 IP, 37 K, 21 BB

UT TBA


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