South Carolina opens the 2012 baseball season by hosting Virginia Military Institute Friday through Sunday. The opening series can be difficult to predict, but here is what you can expect from the Keydets.
Batting: VMI lost most of their leading batters from last year. The glaring exception is George Piccirilli. The senior first baseman batted .332 last year with 4 home runs and 34 runs batted in. He doesn't walk or strike out very often, so look for him to put the ball in play somewhere. Senior right fielder Jacob Morley is the second best batter returning to the team. He batted .295 with 25 runs batted in. He is prone to strike out but can swipe some bases if he gets on. The last player to be aware of is center fielder Rob Dickinson. In 52 games last year Dickinson hit .274, making him the third leading returning batter. Most of the rest of the line up will be filled with players who weren't everyday starters last year, so who knows what you're going to get.
Pitching: VMI returns two of their weekend starters from last year: junior, right handed pitcher Coby Cowgill, and junior right handed pitcher Jeremy Brown. Cowgill went 4-3 last year with a 3.73 ERA. He got his share of strike outs last year with 59 in 72 innings. Brown was 5-3 with a 4.33 ERA. He strikes out an above average amount, like Cowgill, but only walks half as many as his counterpart. VMI also returns most of its experienced relievers: Senior RHP Adam Watts (3 saves, 2.64 ERA), Senior RHP Michael Devine (5 saves, 3.26), Junior RHP Travis Thomas (3 saves, 4.43) and Junior RHP John Garrett (4-2, 5.79). Notice almost all of the VMI pitchers are righties, if you're a match-up kind of guy.
South Carolina: Like VMI, the Gamecocks have some questions coming into the season. Michael Roth projects as the Friday night pitcher with Matt Price moving from the bull pen and Colby Holmes reprising his role as a starter. Former starter Forrest Koumas will get a shot at being the closer. Nolan Belcher, Adam Westmoreland, Ethan Carter and others will also handle relief duties to start.
Christian Walker headlines the returning bats. The entire outfield of Evan Marzilli, Jake Williams and Adam Matthews returns. Catcher will probably be Grayson Greiner. Second base, short stop and third base will all see new comers. Chase Vergason, Joey Pankake and L.B. Dantzler are candidates to start at those positions. Tanner English will also see time. An outfielder by nature, he could be in the line up at DH.
What South Carolina Needs: The season is really too early to need much. A loss to VMI, who looks to finish about the middle of their conference, wouldn't be the end of the world. A lost series would be pretty bad. South Carolina needs to win the series to start the season off right, and a sweep would be nice as well.