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FALL PROFILE: South Carolina Gamecocks
2011 record: 55-14 (National Champions)
Final 2011 PG ranking: No. 1
Top returning players: P Colby Holmes, P Forrest Koumas, OF Evan Marzilli, OF Adam Matthews, P Matt Price, P Michael Roth, 1B Christian Walker, P Tyler Webb, P Adam Westmoreland, OF Jake Williams
Notable departures: OF Jackie Bradley Jr., 2B Scott Wingo, SS Peter Mooney, P John Taylor, P Bryan Harper, P Steven Neff, 3B Adrian Morales, C Brady Thomas, P Jose Mata
Areas of concern: The Gamecocks are coming off back-to-back national titles and have a very legitimate chance to accomplish a three-peat. The Gamecocks have few concerns as fall workouts continue. The middle infield is a question mark with the departures of shortstop Peter Mooney and second baseman Scott Wingo. However, they’ve added especially talented players who are capable of being adequate replacements. South Carolina also must replace third baseman Adrian Morales, who was a key contributor and leader the past few seasons. Losing outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. also is tough, but the Gamecocks got used to life without him after his hand injury last season. This club has the making of another national title contender.
What we think: We thought there would be a hole somewhere after the Gamecocks won their first national title two seasons ago. Then, last season, the Gamecocks captured back-to-back national titles with a thrilling national title series win over Florida. So, will the Gamecocks finally have some holes? Not really. They welcome back an excellent pitching staff with ace Michael Roth and hard-throwing right-hander Matt Price leading the charge. The offense also is in solid shape with the addition of several talented newcomers and return of sluggers such as Christian Walker, Adam Matthews, Jake Williams and Evan Marzilli. Though it’ll be interesting to see how the middle infield develops between now and the spring, there’s absolutely no reason why the Gamecocks shouldn’t be back in the College World Series in 2012. Coach Ray Tanner and his staff have done a phenomenal job with this program.
What they’re saying: “I’ve been telling the players this fall, I don’t make out the lineup in the spring, you guys do. I tell them you know what you want, your teammates know what they want. Now go out there and get it.” – South Carolina coach Ray Tanner.
CB TICKET: Additional South Carolina inside scoop
As South Carolina coach Ray Tanner walked away from the podium in the press conference immediately following his program winning its second national title this past summer, someone jokingly asked him about a possible three-peat in 2012.
At the time, Tanner was very much caught up in the moment of winning another national title. He shrugged his shoulders. After a few months to digest what has occurred in his program the last two seasons, Tanner and the Gamecocks are back at it, working hard as ever as fall workouts continue.
Back-to-back national titles are now history. And the Gamecocks now are aiming for a third-straight national title with an impressive squad in tow.
“When we practiced last fall, we had lost some guys from the year before. But, like this team, we still had some guys, some key guys back,” Tanner said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys back this fall. That’s the good news. The bad news is we have some positions to shore up before February arrives.”
The Gamecocks welcome back several key cogs -- especially on the mound -- this fall. But they have some question marks in the field.
They continue fall workouts without outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who signed with the Red Sox this past summer. However, the Gamecocks shouldn’t miss Bradley Jr. too much as they played several games last season without him because of a hand injury.
They aren’t in such a fortunate situation at other important positions.
For instance, the Gamecocks must replace catchers Robert Beary and Brady Thomas, third baseman Adrian Morales, shortstop Peter Mooney and shortstop Scott Wingo, who earned many headlines for his heroics in Omaha this past June.
“The good news is we have some veterans back. But we also have some open positions at some pretty key positions in the field,” he said. “Fortunately, we’re in a situation where we have a junior college guy and a freshman at each position, which in turn makes it a pretty competitive situation given the different experience levels.”
At third base, the Gamecocks have the tough chore of replacing Morales, who only hit .281 with three home runs and 40 RBIs last season, but was one of the team’s key leaders. In the mix to replace him are junior-college transfer LB Dantzler and sophomore Erik Payne, who hit .250 in just eight at bats last season.
“Dantzler is a left-handed hitter who is quite impressive. He came to us as an offensive guy with few reviews. But I’ve been extremely impressed with his defense, too. He is very underrated in that department,” he said. “Payne just looks like a different guy right now. He played this past summer and he just looks different. We’ve got a pretty good battle on our hands at third.”
At shortstop and second base, the Gamecocks must replace a fantastic double play combination in departed shortstop Peter Mooney and second baseman Scott Wingo.
Freshman Joey Pankake already is earning rave reviews this fall, while junior-college transfers Tanner Lovick and Chase Vergason are making strides. Also keep an eye on freshmen T.J. Costen and Mikal Hill.
“Pankake is extremely talented and he’s doing well. He’s got a plus throwing arm and he’s hanging in there pretty good. Lovick is a really nice player and is very mature,” he said. “I think Vergason is a pretty solid player, and Hill is a good player and a switch hitter. Also keep an eye on Costen, who could play short or second and is a tremendous runner. Overall, with this unit, I feel like we’ll have everything kind of sorted out by the end of October.”
Last but certainly not least, the Gamecocks must replace catchers Robert Beary and Brady Thomas. Leading candidates to do so include very talented freshman Grayson Greiner and Dante Rosenberg, who had just two at bats last season because of an injury.
“It looks like Greiner has the inside track on that job right now. He’s the best freshman catcher we’ve had here since Landon Powell. He’s 6-foot-5, he’s good offensively and defensively, and he’s a student of the game,” he said. “Rosenberg really has done a nice job defensively. But right now, Greiner is just one of those guys you watch play and have no idea that he’s just a freshman. He’s a very poised youngster.”
While the Gamecocks’ primary concern is filling the open positions in the field, there’s also some competition on the mound despite the return of several fantastic arms.
Ace pitcher Michael Roth is back for another season, while right-hander Colby Holmes is back and again expected to occupy one of the weekend starting spots. The question is the No. 3 starting spot, which for now appears to be in Matt Price’s hands.
Price solidified himself as one of the nation’s premier relievers the past two seasons. He earned PG All-American honors last season and tallied 20 saves and a 1.83 ERA in 59 innings. He also turned down strong overtures from the Arizona Diamondbacks as a sixth-round pick this past summer.
“We’re taking a hard look at Price as a starting pitcher right now,” he said. “Price has been very successful as a reliever and this gives a power arm like him a chance to get out there and throw more innings. Things could change, but that’s where we’re leaning.”
Should the Gamecocks keep Price in the rotation, talented sophomore pitcher Forrest Koumas, who tallied a 2.96 ERA in 73 innings last season, would move to closer.
“We’re thinking Koumas could go to the bullpen right now,” he said. “Koumas is very interested in being a closer for us. He’s a fierce competitor and a high energy guy.”
Outside of Price and Koumas, young pitchers Evan Beal and Joel Seddon already are making an impact, while Adam Westmoreland finally is healthy and Ethan Carter is back in the program and making strides.
Though much can change in a matter of months, the script with this Gamecocks club seems eerily familiar.
The Gamecocks welcome back a solid weekend rotation, some quality relievers, and an offense that likely will be better than expected with hard-hitting first baseman Christian Walker leading the way in 2012.
Tanner now can talk about a potential three-peat. It could very well become a reality.
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball managing editor for Perfect Game USA and can be reached at email@example.com