Opening Day 2010: Yardcocks Cruise 10-3

Duquesne University is pulling the plug on their baseball program after this season. Head Duke Mike Wilson may have wanted to go ahead and pull the plug after the 3rd inning of the season opener, after his team gave up to the Gamecocks 8 runs, including a grand slam, another homer, two hit batters, and for all practical purposes, the game. USC coasted the rest of the way, final score 10-3.

Opening day 2009 was cold, and the South Carolina baseball team finished the season the same way. It's a new season, and on opening day 2010, the Yardcocks started the season red hot, blasting the Duquesne Dukes with eight runs in the third inning, and giving a lot of players and pitchers some playing time as they cruised to win number one this season.

Jeffery Jones opened the 2009 season as a starter for Ray Tanner's club, but lost his first base job to Nick Ebert, who went on to earn All-SEC honors. Ebert better watch his back. Stuck watching his teammates from the bleachers due to being academically ineligible at least for now, Ebert watched Jones at least make the coaching staff think about who'll start with his performance against Duquesne on Friday afternoon. In his first two at-bats, Jones drilled a pair of home runs, a one run dinger in the first inning and then a grand slam in the third frame.

Jones was quick to say the job was Ebert's as soon as he is eligible to return, summing up his place by saying, "I feel like I can contribute to the team and drive in runs. Being in the middle of the lineup, that's my job."

Jones is a senior from Fort Worth, Texas who is in his second season with the Gamecocks after transferring from Navarro (Texas) Junior College. He only had 79 at-bats last season after being yanked in favor of Ebert after his early-season struggles.

Tanner praised his work ethic, stressing how Jones stayed in Columbia rather than going home and worked hard in the weight room and on his game. He then earned his spot back in preseason practices. "He's been very impressive," Tanner said. "He's a great practice player. He's worked extremely hard. When you make an investment, you have a chance to get a return. There's never been any question that he can hit. If he continues to do that, he's going to get more opportunities."

Jones just missed a third home run in the sixth inning when he pulled a ball just outside of the right-field foul pole.

Ebert may return as soon as next week's series at East Carolina, or he may be out until the end of the academic semester in May. Jones and Walker's strong opening day performances may give Gamecock fans that worried about their team's hitting prowess a little relief.

Speaking of relief, senior right-hander Blake Cooper threw five innings to pick up the victory, the 22nd of his career, but was pulled relatively early to give others a chance on the mound. Cooper gave up two runs on three hits and two walks and struck out seven. He was initially replaced by sophomore left-hander Nolan Belcher, who pitched two scoreless innings before he gave way to Matt Price, who gave up one run in his only inning. Frosh Colby Holmes pitched the last frame of the day, striking out three Dukes to close out the show.

"Blake was throwing the ball well," Tanner said. "He was getting behind a little bit, but he was certainly competitive."

Jones wasn't the only new face in the lineup, as youth served the Gamecocks well Friday afternoon. Five freshmen and two juco transfers all saw playing time for the first time in the opener, led by frosh Christian Walker, who lived up to his much-ballyhooed reputation by also hitting a home run in not his first college start, but his first college game ever. The other freshmen are Evan Marzilli, Brison Celek, Austin Ashmore, and pitcher Holmes. The two jucos are Robert Beary and Adrian Morales.

This is the second season for the baseball showcase known as Carolina Stadium, and the second season in a row the Gamecocks have opened against Duquesne. Tanner and Dukes skipper Wilson are long-time friends, but Tanner's club hasn't acted as very friendly hosts, winning all three of last year's games and Friday's by a combined score of 37-7. The Gamecocks now are a perfect 20-0 against Duquesne. There was a paid attendance of 6,380 Friday, though the crowd was visibly smaller than that, held down by a starting time of 3 pm on a workday.

The team was loose despite it being the first game, with junior Whit Merrifield making a brief appearance in the press room to hit Jones in the face with a shaving-cream pie as he was leaving the news conference. Before he was bad, Merrifield was good at the plate, with two hits in the third inning, including a two-run RBI single.

The second game of the series at 3 Saturday will overlap slightly with the men's basketball game against Tennessee, which starts at 1:30. USC is offering free admission to fans that show their basketball tickets at the gate. The Gamecock starting pitcher will be junior right-hander Sam Dyson, who finished 9-4 last season, but he will be limited to less than 50 pitches as he continues his recovery from off-season elbow surgery.

Gamecock Anthem Top Stories