Holbrook unsure who will start Sunday against Razorbacks
South Carolina will face Arkansas this weekend for the first time since USC defeated the Razorbacks to advance to last year’s College World Series final, and coach Chad Holbrook is not downplaying the budding rivalry.
“We have the utmost respect for Arkansas,” Holbrook said. “And those games (in the CWS) were incredible games. (These are) just two really, really good baseball programs.”
The No. 6 Gamecocks enter the weekend’s three-game set with an 18-3 record, including a 2-1 start to SEC play after taking their first conference loss at Missouri last weekend. While the team as a whole is off to a strong start, some have argued that the most dominant individual performer of the young year has been senior pitcher Nolan Belcher.
Belcher has started five games on the mound this season and has thrown 36 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched while only allowing only one run. Despite his coach being at a loss for words about Belcher’s early outings, the lefty has been able to maintain a humble attitude toward his recent success.
“It’s still early, obviously, and we’re not even at the halfway point yet,” Belcher said. “All it is is a good start, and I’m throwing a lot more strikes, and I’m just going to try to maintain what I’ve been doing.”
Belcher’s performance as a fifth-year senior comes after a long recovery from a Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2011. Before the surgery, he was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team in 2009.
Before Belcher takes the mound as the Saturday starter, sophomore Evan Beal will start as pitcher on Friday night. Holbrook has chosen to leave Sunday’s starter to-be-announced as he looks to replace struggling senior Colby Holmes and an injured sophomore Jordan Montgomery in the starting rotation.
“I might not know until Saturday night (who will start Sunday); I’m not leaning in any direction,” Holbrook said. “But we feel good about who we’ll be able to put out there on Sunday.”
Sophomore outfielder Tanner English, who is suffering from a banged-up shoulder, is a hopeful to play this weekend while his counterpart in the outfield, junior Graham Saiko, is less optimistic as he nurses a wrist injury.
After entering the 2013 campaign as No. 1 in the preseason polls, Arkansas has gotten off to a rocky start. They have a 14-7 record heading into the weekend’s series against the Gamecocks. The No. 17 Razorbacks opened their SEC season last weekend as well, dropping two out of three to Ole Miss.
While the Razorbacks lead the all-time series 32-28, South Carolina has won eight out of the teams’ 11 meetings since 2010.
Holbrook said he realizes that Arkansas will need no motivation as they look to take their first conference series of the year against USC.
“The margin of victory in this league is very, very minute, and I would expect the games to be extremely competitive and tight and close and low-scoring this weekend,” Holbrook said. “I think they enjoy playing us, and we enjoy playing them. There’s mutual respect on both sides.”