New-look baseball team starts to take shape

Infield players shift around to fill gaps for Gamecocks

Special to The StateFebruary 4, 2013 

With one weekend remaining before South Carolina opens the 2013 baseball season at home against Liberty on Feb. 15, coach Chad Holbrook is pleased with his team’s progress.

The Gamecocks have two weekends of scrimmages under their belt, and the first-year coach likes what he has seen.

“I felt a lot better about this weekend to be honest with you than last weekend,” Holbrook said. “It was a lot more competitive. Things are starting to sort themselves out a little bit from a position player standpoint. Our pitchers continue to throw well. We played with a more sense of urgency this weekend.”

Holbrook still has to pare the roster down to 35 before Opening Day, but some of the starting positions are starting to take shape. LB Dantzler has moved from third to first to take over for the departed Christian Walker. Chase Vergason moved from second to Dantzler’s spot at third to open up room for Max Schrock, who leads for the second base job.

One of the oddities of the preseason has been the batting struggles of Dantzler. It is the opposite of last season when he was highly productive in the preseason, struggled when the season started then finished strong.

Holbrook is not concerned.

“I don’s worry about LB, he’ll be fine,” Holbrook said. “His batting practices has been better, and he’s swinging it better. He’s going to be OK.”

Joey Pankake missed the final two scrimmages this weekend with a jammed finger on his throwing hand, but he should be ready to resume his role at shortstop as early as next weekend. Freshman DC Arendas has been a steady infielder, and he could be a late-game defensive replacement at any infield spot. Holbrook hopes to get Arendas, a natural shortstop, more work at the corner spots.

Tanner English will move from left field to center, and Graham Saiko has taken the lead in left. TJ Costen and football player Ahmad Christian are in a battle for the right-field job. Costen finished the weekend strong, but Christian likely will have a spot in the lineup at some point this season.

Fellow football player Shon Carson also has impressed Holbrook and he expects both to be contributors.

“TJ was good this weekend with a home run and a triple,” Holbrook said. “Ahmad has been steady and gotten his share of hits and played well. The one thing we can do with those two guys, if we want them both in the lineup, we can DH one of them. Erick Payne has been swinging it well, and that has been encouraging to see. He’s kind of solidified himself in there somewhere.”

Grayson Greiner and Dante Rosenberg return behind the plate, and that gives Holbrook comfort.

“Our middle defense has been terrific,” Holbrook said. “The old adage is if you’re strong up the middle, you have a chance to have a good team. I feel good about our two catchers, our middle infielders and center fielder. I think we’ll be strong up the middle for sure.

The top of the line pitchers threw on Saturday and Sunday, but Holbrook was able to get a look at nine pitchers on the mound Monday. He said the way they competed went a long way towards establishing a pecking order going into the season.

“There were some guy competing for spots today, and it was encouraging to see them compete pretty well,” Holbrook said. “I feel good about some of those kids that were able to throw strikes, but a lot of those guys might struggle to find innings this year.”

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