Preview: USC travels to Athens

The South Carolina Gamecocks baseball team has won a school record five of its first five SEC baseball series this season, and will look to continue its winning ways this weekend. The Gamecocks make the trip to Athens, Ga. for a three-game series with the Georgia Bulldogs. Look inside as's John Klauber breaks down the Bulldogs.


(11-25, 3-12 SEC play). When playing home: 7-10.

National Polls (4/19): #10 South Carolina (Baseball America), #10 South Carolina (ESPN/USA Today), #14 South Carolina (NCBWA), #5 South Carolina (Collegiate Baseball). RPI rankings (compiled by NCAA Men's Baseball): #12 South Carolina (previous rank: #19); #96 Georgia (previous rank: #89).

Georgia comes into this series... after winning one game in the past seven played, which includes a sweep (4/16-18) in Fayetteville against the Razorbacks, a huge weekday loss (4/14) to arch-rival Georgia Tech (in Athens) and winning one out of three against Ole Miss (4/9-11) in Athens. Georgia managed to do something the Gamecocks couldn't do last weekend, which was to secure a Sunday win against the Rebels (in Athens).

Their loss against rival Georgia Tech was (literally) monumental... 25-6. The Yellow Jackets had 25 hits, 4 homers and were aided by 14 walks as the Bulldogs used 10 pitchers during the weekday game. It was the most earned runs and hits allowed by Georgia in school history and largest margin of defeat in the series history.

The Diamond Dawgs fortunes took a turn for the worse when they boarded their bus and headed to Fayetteville, Arkansas for their SEC weekend series. They were swept by the Razorbacks (#1 team in the SEC) in three games by large margins...10-2 Friday, 10-2 Saturday and 13-5 Sunday. They will play a four game series in the friendly confines of Foley Field this week, getting a weekday match-up with Winthrop University (4/21) and the Gamecocks (4/23-25). Keep in mind... the friendly confines of Foley Field have rarely been Gamecock friendly.

It is one place where a Coach Tanner led team... no matter how good it may have been... is always challenged. Since Coach Tanner took over as Gamecock skipper, the Gamecocks' record at Foley is 9 wins and 15 losses out of 24 games... a .375 winning percentage at Foley. Compared to playing them in Columbia (since '97), where our record is 16-2 against the Dawgs; 18 games... an .89 winning percentage. That includes regular season and post season play ('06 S.R.) at Foley. Even in our best years ('00-'04), our record at Foley was 5-4; a .56 winning percentage. They would like very much for that trend to continue this weekend. We are currently 8-5 playing away from Carolina Stadium; 20-3 at home.

Coach David Perno, in his 9th year as the Dawg's skipper, has had an effect on his Bulldog team. His first eight years were very successful... getting the Bulldogs to five post season Tourneys and three World Series ('04, '06, '08). He celebrated his 300th win as Bulldog skipper with his most recent SEC win (against Ole Miss). The 2008 CWS appearance and National Champion runners-up was the closest the Bulldogs have come to winning it all... since the 1990 team. Perno (as a UGA player) and his teammates won it all in '90.

Coach Perno is a master motivator... this year's team has been a challenge. After losing seven key starters off of last year's squad, he thought he may have the type of pitching staff to make up for any loss the draft took on UGA batting. It was projected in the fall that the UGA pitching staff would feature solid seniors in Jeff Walters (RHP), Alex McRee (LHP), Justin Earls (LHP) and Steve Esmonde (RHP). This group, along with "super" sophomores Michael Palazzone (RHP), Cecil Tanner (RHP) and Chase Hawkins (LHP) would be a solid nucleus of pitching; all had contributed heavily last year. It was the hitting that was truly an unknown; a batting order which features a ton of sophomore hitters and a few true freshmen.

Coach Perno summed up their situation in a recent interview (between the Ga. Tech game and the Arkansas series)... "We are so inconsistent with our pitching this late in the year and that's frustrating. I am very dissappointed. We have to throw strikes and that's where it starts." Gamecock fans need to hope our woes of leaving base runners stranded will not continue in Athens, because that would give Georgia a very good chance to make this series an interesting one for their fans.

"CV" honored with a patch on Georgia uniforms... CV are the initials for Georgia player Chance Veazey, a freshman infielder who was paralyzed following a scooter accident (October '09). Presently working on his academics at home and undergoing therapy at Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta, he will return to campus next year and will rejoin and support his teammates and his team.

Georgia is currently ranked #12 in the SEC with a team ERA of 8.67; South Carolina is #2 with a team ERA of 3.27. South Carolina has the best opposing batting average with SEC opposition batting only .214 against Yardcock pitchers. Georgia is currently #12 with opposing batters hitting .334 against Georgia pitching. Currently, both teams are tied with batters struck out looking with 112 strike outs/looking. South Carolina leads the SEC with batters struck out... 347 batters have been struck out by Yardcock pitchers. UGA pitchers have allowed more hits than any other SEC pitching staff (440 hits total), whereas South Carolina pitching has allowed the least amount of hits (252 hits allowed). South Carolina has allowed 120 (4th best in SEC) free passes to first; UGA has allowed 184 (12th among SEC teams). Georgia has allowed 60 wild pitches while South Carolina has allowed only 18.

Georgia is currently ranked #12 in the SEC with team batting (.282BA, 208 runs, 131 walks, 292 SO) while South Carolina is ranked #9 in SEC team batting (.292, 263 runs, 168 walks, 213 SO). As mentioned, runners left on base have been a problem for South Carolina... but the Gamecocks continue to win. It gets much tougher when you are in someone else's SEC ball park and South Carolina is not comfortable in the confines of Foley Field. Georgia features a really fast outfield on defense with Zack Cone (CF; .988 fld%, 73po, 7a, 1e), Jonathon Taylor (LF; .969 fld%, 61po, 2a, 2e) and Peter Verdin (RF; .959 fld%, 68po, 3a, 3e). They can get to the ball quick and are fairly accurate with their throws to the infield. All three played on last year's team; all three players are Sophomores. Zack Cone is currently #10 in the SEC with RBI (SEC games only)...16 total;1.07RBI/GM and is 9th in the league in slugging percentage (SEC games only: .656 slg %).

Here is a look at the Georgia batting order. Many changes have taken place over the past month in rotation of hitters, in an attempt to field the best possible offensive threat. Here is how their batting order looked against Arkansas in game #3, with notations of previous batting order changes for each batter listed:

#16, Peter Verdun. RF, (R-R, So.) Lead-off hitter (4/17,18); .318BA, 151AB, 34r, 7HR, 24RBI

(.550SP). Made switch to lead-off from 2 slot. #3, Levi Hyams. 2B, (L-R, So.) 2nd slot. .340BA, 97AB, 19r, 1HR, 18RBI (.474SP). Consistent 3 hole hitter since start of SEC season.

#17, Kyle Farmer. SS, (R-R, Fr.) 3rd slot. .368BA, 87AB, 14r, 1HR, 12RBI (.575SP). Inserted in 3rd slot for Arkansas; hit 5th @ Winthrop.

#12, Zack Cone. CF, (R-R, So.) 4th slot. .367BA, 147AB, 32r, 8HR, 37RBI (.667SP). Consistent 4 hole hitter since start of SEC season. Hit in 3rd slot @ Winthrop.

#43, Robert Shipman. 1B/DH, (L-L, Fr.) 5th slot. .276BA, 87AB, 14r, 4HR, 22RBI (.448SP). Consistent 5 hole hitter since start of SEC season. Hit 4th @ Winthrop.

#10, Zach Taylor. DH, (L-L, Fr.) Rotated into 6th slot. .238BA, 63AB, 4r, 7RBI (.333SP). History of rotation as ph for DH position.

#34, Chase Davidson. DH/1B, (L-R, So.) Rotated into 7th slot. .159BA, 69AB, 7r, 1HR, 3RBI (.246SP). Rotation as ph for 1B.

#25, Colby May. 3B, (R-R, So.) Pretty consistent 8th slot hitter. .179BA, 123AB, 16r, 5HR, 19RBI (.333SP).

#26, Christian Glisson. C, (L-R, So.) Hits low in order (7, 9 slot). .355BA, 93AB, 17r, 2HR, 12RBI (.462SP). Hit 6th @ Winthrop.

Others seeing frequent playing time:

#24, Carson Schilling. C/PH, (R-R, So.) .314BA, 35AB, 6r, 1HR, 3RBI (.543SP). Used for ph and inserted as catcher.

#5, Todd Hankins. 3B/PR, (R-R, Fr.) .275BA, 80AB, 16r, 6RBI (.338SP). Used for pr/ph and inserted at 3B.

#36, Kevin Ruiz. 1B/P/PH, (R-R/RHP, So.) .245BA, 49AB, 5r, 1HR, 5RBI (.347SP). Multiple use player off the bench.

#22, Brett DeLoach. DH/PH/C, (R-R, Fr.) .203BA, 59AB, 6r, 1HR, 7RBI (.288SP). Right-handed DH to face RHP. Caught/hit #7 slot @ Winthrop.

#2, Johnathon Taylor. LF, (L-L, So.) .286BA, 133AB, 16r, 20RBI (.323SP). Was lead-off hitter. Moved to lower BO; position change at LF. Batted 9th @ Winthrop.

Georgia pitching. Georgia possesses a team ERA of 8.67 (all games); an 8.34 team ERA against SEC opponents (SEC games only); opponents are hitting .334 against Georgia pitching. Georgia's three weekend starters are Justin Grimm (RHP, Jr.), Jeff Walters (RHP, Sr.) and Michael Palazzone (RHP, So.).

Coach Perno stated in an interview, which preceded the Arkansas series: "(Justin) Grimm is the only certainty in our rotation. We've got to get more innings out of Jeff Walters (7.86ERA), Michael Palazzone (7.90ERA) and Alex McRee (6.61ERA). I like what some of our other guys are doing like Justin Earls (7.52ERA), Cooper Moseley (5.03 ERA) and Cecil Tanner (13.79 ERA). We may take a look at starting McRee (LHP, Sr.) and moving one of the other guys to the bullpen"...

With the line-up of Grimm, Walters and Palazzone Georgia features three right handed pitchers for weekend starts. Carolina is 19-5 against right-handed starters, 10-3 versus left-handed starters.

If Coach Perno makes a move with a weekend starter, it really doesn't matter if they are a right or left hander. What will matter will be the pitcher's ability to get some Carolina batters out. Carolina has maintained a (cumulative) batting average of .292 against its opponents. The Yardcocks have seen some of the best pitching the SEC has to offer in Sonny Gray, Jack Armstrong, Drew Pomerantz and Aaron Barrett. Now is the perfect time and opportunity to get individual Yardcock batting averages up against a suspect Georgia pitching staff that possesses inflated earned run averages. The following scouting report will reflect Diamond Dawgs strengths and weaknesses.

Justin Grimm (#40; 2-5, 5.10ERA [RHP, R-R, Jr.]; 47.2IP, 33r (27e), 45SO); opponents hitting .258 against Grimm. He missed most of the '09 season at UGA due to a broken arm. He maintains a fastball in the low '90s, but is capable of running it up to the mid'90s (96 mph) and has worked on locating it around the plate. When he is shooting for location, velocity is sacrificed for accuracy. It is his #1 pitch. His curve spins in at 73-77 mph and is an average pitch for him when its location is good. Grimm possesses a change-up which is also an average pitch. Projected to go in the MLB draft in the 100's, many scouts consider him to be a project on the next level and will require time in the minors to improve.

The typical Saturday starter for the Diamond Dawgs is Jeff Walters (#43; 1-3, 7.86ERA [RHP, R-R, Sr.]; 44.2IP, 42r [39e], 37SO); opponents hitting .326 against Walters. Walters throws a sinking fastball in the mid-90s; capable of throwing a sinker at @ 94 mph... but comes in with a pitch in the low '90s for better control. His slider possesses a hard, late break. He struggles with control, especially when attempting to throw at higher speeds. He worked 1.2 innings of scoreless relief against the Gamecocks (5/18/09) retiring all 5 batters faced with 18 pitches.

Michael Palazzone (#44; 4-4, 7.90ERA [RHP, R-R, So.]; 41IP, 38r [36e], 30SO); opponents hitting .347 against him. Palazzone was one of the most amazing pitching products that I saw coming out of the East Cobb area of Metro Atlanta in '08. He was a member of the AFLAC All-American Classic, pitching for the East Squad. I watched him and his high school, Lassiter High, compete for the Georgia H.S. 5A Championship that year. He was always a competitor and he always wanted to win. He seems to be having a difficult time adjusting to the next level of hitting, but is capable of "having a game" against hitters.

Palazzone throws a fastball in the 89-93 mph range, without much movement on the ball. He has an outstanding curveball... a true overhead (12 to 6) breaking ball that can be difficult to command for a strike. But the curve is his bread and butter pitch; he can throw an effective change-up pitch. His delivery is similar to Tim Lincecum... rocks back with arm dropping straight down behind his back, with arm coming straight over the top. This delivery has been somewhat of an Achilles heel concerning his control of pitches at the college level.

As noted in the Coach Perno interview above, there is consideration for Alex McRee to possibly start this weekend. McRee has been solid in relief (#32; 0-1 w/3 saves, 6.61 ERA [LHP, L-L, Sr.]; 16.1IP, 17r [12e], 32SO), with opponents hitting just .238 against him. He was a weekend starter last year, but had control issues which put him back in the bullpen. McRee has an 89-92 mph fastball with an inconsistent arm slot in delivery of pitches. It appears to be done on purpose, given the result - inconsistency in delivery. His curveball is above average, but again, inconsistent. McRee worked as a closer last year with Joshua Fields (RHP); Fields was used as a closer or in situations where a RHP was needed against a strong right-handed batter. McRee (LHP) was used to register tough outs against LH hitters.

Middle relievers for Georgia feature the following for weekend relief. Cooper Moseley (#7; 0-1 w/2 saves, 5.03ERA [RHP/MIF, L-R, Fr.]; 19.2IP, 11r [11e], 17SO); opponents hitting .273 against Moseley. Has strong velocity... 91mph fastball measured at PG Crosschecker '08 National Underclass Showcase. Very good arm strength and a quick transfer. Uses deception as a pitcher with outstanding movement on his pitches. He has a solid curveball with a good sinking motion at the plate. He usually comes in for middle relief duties and throws an average 1.0IP/game. Steve Esmonde (#20; 1-0, 7.03ERA [RHP, R-R, Sr.]; 24.1IP, 20r [19e], 15SO); opponents hitting .279 against Esmonde. Esmonde's record at UGA has been consistently bad since his arrival three years ago: '07: 0-0, 2.70ERA, 20.1IP, 9r(6e), 11SO; WHiP:1.00.; '08: 2-0, 3.80ERA, 23.2IP, 12r(10e), 12SO; WHiP: 1.10.; '09: 1-0, 6.00ERA, 27IP, 23r(18e), 15SO; WHiP: 1.74. Esmonde pitched one inning against South Carolina last year (5/14/09) registering one strike out and enticing 2 outs from S.C. hitters.

Cecil Tanner (#28; 1-2, 13.79ERA [RHP, R-R, So.]; 15.2IP, 25r [24e], 16SO) handles middle to late relief for the Dawgs, typically on Sundays. Opponents are hitting .279 against him. Tanner is a long, lean and big-bodied pitcher with a 6'6" frame. His fastball runs 93-95 mph, but has touched 97-98 mph. He has a hard slider which comes in around the low 80s. He will struggle with command of his pitches, but the arm is there. He can be used as a closer or a setup pitcher. Justin Earls (#18; 2-0, 7.52ERA [LHP, L-L, Sr.]; 26.1IP, 23r [22e], 19SO) is primarily used as a closer, even though opponents are batting .373 against him. Earls threw eight scoreless relief outings in 9 appearances (3/27-4/12) to start this year. He is still capable of keeping opponents offensive series at bay late in innings... but has been called on recently for middle relief duties, as some UGA starters struggle early in games.

The Gamecocks need to take this series for what it is... a serious challenge on the road by an SEC opponent. Forget the statistics and play like each day is the last before the end of the regular season. This is an attitude which our Yardcock team has adopted and was very evident after their one point loss to Ole Miss last weekend.

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