Holbrook’s Gamecocks armed and ready

USC’s pitching again looks strong as fall practice wraps up

nwhite@thestate.comOctober 28, 2012 

When the South Carolina baseball team finished its annual Garnet & Black World Series — the three intrasquad scrimmages that close out fall team practice — Sunday afternoon at Carolina Stadium, one thing was clear.

The pitching looked good.

“The pitchers that we’re counting on to do some great things for us this spring really threw well,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said.

Senior right-hander Colby Holmes provided the highlight of the series with five perfect innings Sunday for the Garnet team, which won 5-0 on a seven-inning no-hitter to capture the deciding game. The Black team won 3-2 Thursday, while the Garnet team bounced back with a 2-0 victory Friday.

“As a kid that’s been here four years, pitched in Omaha, and helped us win a championship or two, he was very impressive,” Holbrook said of Holmes.

The pitching was strong in all three games, with solid performances from sophomore left-hander Jordan Montgomery, senior right-hander Patrick Sullivan, senior left-handers Tyler Webb, Nolan Belcher and Adam Westmoreland, and freshman left-hander Jack Wynkoop.

All of them will work toward earning prominent roles in the spring. Sullivan, who managed the victorious Garnet team, likes what he saw this fall.

“We’ve got so many options, a lot of new guys who are just unreal and a lot of depth,” he said. “We’re going to be good.”

USC, which has reached the College World Series finals three straight seasons, must replace ace Michael Roth and closer Matt Price, two of the greatest pitchers in school history. The closer’s role remains up in the air.

“I don’t know who we’re going to ask to get those three outs right now,” Holbrook said. “If I had to guess, if we played tomorrow, it would be Tyler Webb. He would be the guy just because of experience.”

Holbrook did like the strides his team made defensively over the course of the fall, and he noted the strong hitting of a pair of newcomers in junior-college outfielder Graham Saiko and freshman second baseman Max Schrock.

“Graham Saiko has won a position,” Holbrook said. “He’s a way better baseball player than I thought he was. He’s going to play somewhere. You can make a case that he has been our position-player of the fall with the type of fall he has had offensively.”

Three sophomore returnees will anchor the Gamecocks up the middle of the field — catcher Grayson Greiner, shortstop Joey Pankake and center fielder Tanner English. All of them started as freshmen and gained valuable experience. A year older and more mature, they should all be defensive stalwarts and will fill key spots in the top half of the batting order.

“They did a great job this fall stepping into that leadership role, also,” said Belcher, the manager of the Black squad.

But not everything is determined.

Sophomore T.J. Costen and senior Sean Sullivan are in the mix for one of the corner outfield spots. Senior third baseman LB Dantzler, who missed the end of fall practice with a hamate injury, could move across the diamond to first base, which might mean senior Chase Vergason, last season’s second baseman, moves to third.

“The lineup is not in concrete,” Holbrook said. “There are still positions to be won.”

And as he tries to whittle the roster down to 35 players in the spring, Holbrook also must factor in the arrival of football players Ahmad Christian, Shon Carson and Kwinton Smith next semester. The three outfielders could make strong plays for roster spots.

The strong-armed Pankake could also see some time on the mound, as could freshman right-hander Curt Britt, who missed the end of fall practice with a hamate injury as well.

“We’ve got to work to continue to get better, but we certainly have some pieces in place to have a really competitive team,” Holbrook said.

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