Monday, June 20, 2011
game preview: South Carolina
History against the Gamecocks: 27-35
Last matchup: USC 8, UVA 2; 6/3/2006; NCAA Tournament, Charlottesville regional
Last game: UVA 4, Cal 1 (6/19); USC 5, Texas A&M 4 (6/19)
Blogs of the enemy: Garnet and Black Attack, Leftover Hot Dog
South Carolina possible lineup:
C: Robert Beary (.296-3-35)
1B: Christian Walker (.357-10-60)
2B: Scott Wingo (.350-4-28)
3B: Adrian Morales (.281-3-39)
SS: Peter Mooney (.276-3-35)
LF: Jake Williams (.273-2-38)
CF: Jackie Bradley, Jr., (.259-6-26)
RF: Evan Marzilli (.299-3-30)
DH: Brady Thomas (.305-4-39)
Pitching probables: RHP Will Roberts (11-1, 1.58, 91 K's) vs. RHP Colby Holmes (7-3, 3.78, 70 K's)
South Carolina's bullpen:
RHP John Taylor (6-1, 1.25, 63 K's)
LHP Steven Neff (3-1, 2.45, 29 K's)
RHP Jose Mata (3-0, 1.76, 16 K's)
LHP Tyler Webb (3-1, 3.21, 28 K's)
RHP Matt Price (6-3, 2.13, 68 K's, 18 sv)
UVA took care of Cal the same way they dispatched UC-Irvine: threatening most of the time and then finally stringing the hits together in the later innings. Danny Hultzen threw 6 1/3 innings with his Sunday-best slider but lousy fastball command, and didn't allow a run; he left with no possibility of a decision because the score was 0-0 at the time. It took - of all people - Keith Werman to get things going, setting the table with a single to lead off the seventh and driving home a run in the eighth with another base hit. Jared King followed up three absolutely awful at bats with an eighth-inning triple just over the right fielder's glove and scored on Werman's slap single to left.
The (slightly) bad news: the 0-0 game required Brian O'Connor to stretch Hultzen's arm as long as possible instead of holding back a little, and when he went to the pen it was for Tyler Wilson, who threw 2 1/3 innings in relief before giving way to Branden Kline for the final out. That means Will Roberts will take the hill on Tuesday instead of Wilson. Hultzen, of course, is right out.
In terms of starting pitching, Roberts should have the advantage. (Cue Gamecock fans: he didn't pitch against ess-eee-cee competition though.) He'll go against right-hander Colby Holmes. He's likely to pitch deeper into the game than Holmes is; South Carolina sometimes has a quick hook with Holmes. They yanked him in the fifth inning of their super-regional game against UConn despite only being down 2-1 at the time. He also got totally bombed out of the Ole Miss game. Holmes has a tendency to give up the gopherball; of the 26 home runs allowed by the South Carolina pitching staff, 12 are Holmes's responsibility. Holmes is one of those pitchers who throws three or four pitches but doesn't have consistent command of most of them yet. There's nothing that our hitters like better than a 91-mph fastball that isn't accompanied by a slider or change that gets over the plate. (That was Irvine ace Matt Summers's problem.) Holmes could have the breaking stuff working and have a fair amount of success; if not, he'll be pulled in the third inning and leave behind some tired outfielders and probably a sizable deficit.
However, the gopherball isn't a UVA specialty, and the CWS stadium is a big one, so don't expect anything to go flying out of the park. It's been playing very homer-unfriendly so far. And if UVA hitters can't jump on Holmes quickly, South Carolina may well be able to neutralize the UVA advantage on the hill by going to their bullpen early. The only unavailable pitcher after their game against A&M is the starter, Michael Roth, who wasn't pulled until the eighth inning. South Carolina will have a full bullpen; UVA will as well, but with Wilson's availability in question, doesn't have a long-relief horse like the Gamecocks' John Taylor. And closer Matt Price is lights-out and a 6th-round pick.
Roberts will have his hands full with the South Carolina lineup, of course. Christian Walker was a super-late round pick out of high school two years ago by the Dodgers, but being picked 1477th overall doesn't inspire one to try the professional track, and South Carolina is much the better for it. Walker has hit 10 home runs this year, driven in 60 runs, and bats .357. Scott Wingo, the walkoff hero of the A&M game, also bats .350+. He's an 11th-round pick this year. But the highest draft pick isn't Price, or Walker (who's only a sophomore), or Wingo - it's 9th hitter Jackie Bradley, picked 40th overall by the Red Sox. Bradley's had a disappointing season, batting only .259, which is why he's in the 9th slot, but his presence there just reinforces the notion that Roberts won't be able to relax just because he got to the bottom of the order. Bradley still packs a little pop in his bat and obviously, the major leagues think he's got a pile of talent.
I'd remind you that South Carolina is the defending national champion, but ESPN will probably take care of that for most of the game's duration, so I won't. One thing that is interesting is that this is the first time in quite a while that they've won their first CWS game. And of course, this being only UVA's second trip, it's the first time ever for UVA in the winner's bracket, too. Both teams have been to Omaha before, but still it's the Omaha debut for both pitchers; neither pitched in their respective teams' previous appearances here. I don't know if Gamecock fans are worried about Colby Holmes's mentality, but with a perfect game under Will Roberts's belt, I'm not worried about his handling of pressure.
What worries me is this: In seven previous games in this tournament so far, we've faced a three-seed five times, a four-seed once, and a two-seed once, and that two-seed had burned up its pitching staff and wasn't a very good two-seed anyway. This'll be UVA's first tournament test against a regional host, and a national seed at that. I won't call it luck, I call it the benefit of being the national #1 seed - your part of the bracket is likelier to flame out than the rest of it. But it's time to play with the big boys now. Can we get this done against an honest, legitimate title contender, the first such opponent in this tournament run? UVA will get no respect from Ess-Eee-Cee fans or most pundits - I mean, actual they-could-actually-win-this-tournament respect - until we beat one of their own, someone who's been all the way to the top before. UVA opened some eyes in 2009 by eliminating Irvine and Ole Miss, but there's a next step to be taken now, and Tuesday is our chance.