Gamecocks Begin 2009 Season Saturday

The South Carolina Gamecock baseball program will open a new stadium and a new season Saturday. First pitch is set for 2 p.m. The new Carolina Stadium is sold out for Saturday's contest against Duquesne.

Columbia, S.C. - The 2009 season begins this weekend as South Carolina opens Carolina Stadium with a three-game series vs. Duquesne. First pitch for the opener is 2 p.m. with Sunday's contest also at 2 p.m. and the Monday series finale scheduled for Noon. The inaugural game at Carolina's new facility is sold out. Live video broadcast is available for all three games at

Head coach Ray Tanner is in his 13th season at the helm of the Gamecock baseball program. Coach Tanner is 540-223 (.694) at Carolina. His winning percentage is second best in SEC history. He has guided Carolina to 10 NCAA Regional appearances including nine straight from 2000-08, the longest current streak among the 12 SEC schools. In addition, South Carolina has made seven NCAA Super Regional appearances as well as three trips to the College World Series. Carolina was the National Runner-Up in 2002 and also reached Omaha in 2003 and 2004.

Pitching Rotations

Game 1 Pitcher
SC - Sam Dyson (RHP, So.)
DUQ - Gary Pierpont (RHP, Sr.)

Game 2 Pitcher
SC - Nolan Belcher (LHP, Fr.)
DUQ - Ryan Juran (RHP, Sr.)

Game 3 Pitcher
SC - Blake Cooper (RHP, Jr.)
DUQ - Paul Bugaski (RHP, Jr.) or Johnny Elms (RHP, So.)

The University of South Carolina will open its new baseball facility to start the 2009 season this weekend beginning on Saturday, Feb. 21 with a three-game series vs. Duquesne.

Carolina Stadium is an 8,242 capacity facility. The facility includes coaches' offices, an indoor hitting/pitching area, a 4,000 square-foot weight room, suite and club seating and a state-of-the-art scoreboard and sound system.

South Carolina sophomore RHP Sam Dyson is scheduled to get the Opening Day start for the Gamecocks. Dyson is a 2009 Preseason All-America selection by Collegiate Baseball. A third-team choice, Dyson posted an 8-0 record in his freshman season for the Gamecocks including a win in the 2008 NCAA (Raleigh) Regional vs. Charlotte.

Dyson earned Freshman All-America honors last year and moved into the rotation late in the season with two of his top performances coming in May in postseason play. On the first day of the SEC Tournament, Dyson was strong vs. LSU as he limited the hot-hitting Tigers to just two hits in 6.2 scoreless innings of work. Despite a no-decision in the game, Dyson's performance was one of the top pitching performances of the tournament and moved Dyson into the first game of the NCAA Regional vs. Charlotte. Against the 49ers, Dyson also worked a strong 6.2 innings on his way to a victory in the 15-8 win for Carolina.

Dyson finished the year 8-0 with a 4.09 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 50.2 innings pitched. Opponents batted just .238 against him on the year. He is only the third sophomore under head coach Ray Tanner to ever make an Opening Day start. The other sophomores were David Marchbanks in 2002 and Kip Bouknight in 1999.

Opening Day Starters Under Head Coach Ray Tanner
2009 Sam Dyson (So. RHP)
2008 Mike Cisco (Jr. RHP)
2007 Harris Honeycutt (Jr. RHP)
2006 Andrew Cruse (Jr. RHP)
2005 Aaron Rawl (Sr. RHP)
2004 Aaron Rawl (Jr. RHP)
2003 Steven Bondurant (Sr. LHP)
2002 David Marchbanks (So. LHP)
2001 Kip Bouknight (Sr. RHP)
2000 Kip Bouknight (Jr. RHP)
1999 Kip Bouknight (So. RHP)
1998 Brett Jodie (Jr. RHP)
1997 Eddie Hoff (Jr. RHP)

South Carolina freshman LHP Nolan Belcher will make his debut in game two as he gets the start for Carolina on Sunday afternoon. Belcher's start will mark the first time under head coach Ray Tanner that a freshman has earned rotation spot in the first weekend series of the year.

The Augusta, Ga. native won three high school state championships and recorded a career record of 47-2 with 516 strikeouts in 282 innings. He was 12-1 with a 0.89 ERA as a senior as well as 10-1 on the mound as a junior. Baseball America rated him the No. 46 best prospect in the state of Georgia for the 2008 MLB Draft.

South Carolina junior RHP Blake Cooper is figuring in the weekend rotation for his third season at South Carolina. Cooper gets the ball for the Gamecocks in the series finale on Monday. Cooper has 32 career appearances at Carolina with 26 starts and owns a 12-8 career record.

Last season, Cooper made the 2008 NCAA Regional All-Tournament team after hurling a career-high nine strkeouts in 8.1 innings of a 7-5 win over James Madison. Cooper was a 2007 Freshman All-America selection by Collegiate Baseball after posting a 7-2 record in his first year with the Garnet & Black.

After undergoing back surgery in the summer, senior third baseman Andrew Crisp is back and healthy for his final season in a Gamecock uniform. One of the more versatile players on the team, Crisp has played in 175 career games and is a career .303 hitter with the Gamecocks. Despite his back problems last year, Crisp played in 51 games with 48 starts and hit .296 (55-for-186) with five doubles, a pair of homers and 25 RBI. Crisp is the most experienced player on the 2009 squad.

Sophomore outfielder Whit Merrifield is another returning starter in the mix for the Gamecocks. Last year, Merrifield was a 2008 SEC All-Freshman team selection and played in 62 of 63 games. Merrifield was among the team's leading hitters in 2008 as he hit .326 (77-for-236) with nine doubles, a triple and three HR. He was also a 2008 NCAA Regional All-Tournament team pick in Raleigh, N.C. He scored 58 runs and led the team in stolen bases with 11. Merrifield played last summer for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League with teammate DeAngelo Mack.

Junior outfielder DeAngelo Mack will start the season in left field for the Gamecocks. Mack had a strong end to the 2008 season and made his way into the starting lineup late in the year. Mack blasted seven homers including a pair at the 2008 NCAA Raleigh Regional that put him also on the All-Tournament team. Mack joined Whit Merrifield on the Cape this summer with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.

Mack played in 38 games with 30 starts, hit .283 (30-for-106), tallied five doubles, a triple, seven homers and 21 RBI. He also scored 25 runs and stole a pair of bases.

A newcomer to the program will get the opening day start in right field as freshman Jackie Bradley, Jr. makes his first appearance this weekend. A native of Prince George, Va., Bradley, Jr. was a 2008 all-state performer in the state of Virginia. Bradley, Jr. looks to maybe sit at top of Ray Tanner's batting order for the 2009 season.

Sophomore infielder Scott Wingo is expected to start at second base for Carolina. Wingo played almost every day as a true freshman with 54 game appearances as well as 34 starts. Wingo finished with a solid .438 on-base percentage and set the USC freshman record with 17 hit by pitches. He also fielded a very strong .978 with just five errors.

A JUCO MIX Three starting positions on the field figure to be filled by junior college transfers. Justin Dalles is expected to be behind the plate at catcher, first baseman will be manned by Jeffery Jones with shortstop filled in by Bobby Haney. Carolina leaned heavily on the junior college ranks in its last recruiting class. Other JC transfers expected to contribute include infielder Nick Ebert, infielder Casey Rihn. Ebert saw action in preseason scrimmages at both third and first base with Rihn an option at second base.

Three of the five JC newcomers played in Florida with Rihn a product of Santa Ana JC in the Orange Empire Conference in Southern California and Jones from Navarro JC in Texas.

The Gamecocks find themselves in a different position to begin the season as none of the four major collegiate baseball polls have the team ranked to start of the year. It is the first time Carolina has not been preseason ranked since 1997, head coach Ray Tanner's first year.

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