The Daily Gamecock

Baseball begins series at Florida tonight

	<p>Sophomore shortstop Joey Pankake is among the team leaders in several offensive categories but has also committed 13 errors.</p>
Sophomore shortstop Joey Pankake is among the team leaders in several offensive categories but has also committed 13 errors.

Joey Pankake looks to improve consistency, production

Coach Chad Holbrook has had high expectations for shortstop Joey Pankake all year.

After Pankake hit a walk-off home run that lifted South Carolina to a 6-5 win over The Citadel Tuesday night, Holbrook said the sophomore is a gifted player only scratching the surface of his potential. As the Gamecocks (27-7, 8-4 SEC) prepare to take on Florida in a road series beginning tonight, their coach will continue to rely on Pankake to live up to the expectations surrounding him.

“Sometimes I want to strangle him, but at the same time, you’re not going to see this coach take him out of the lineup,” Holbrook said.

The coach commented in a preseason press conference that the Gamecocks will not reach their goals if Pankake has a mediocre season. Thus far, the sophomore’s performance has been a mixed bag.

He is among the team’s leaders in several offensive categories, including batting average and RBI, but his 13 errors are the most on the team.

“I still have a lot of things I need to work on,” Pankake said. “I need to be more consistent in the field. I haven’t played that well this year. I need to drive in more runs. I’ve left a lot of runners on base. There’s still a lot of improvements to be made.”

Holbrook said one reason for Pankake’s success lies in his ability to maintain an even keel regardless of his performance, adding that the shortstop has enough confidence to always want the outcome of the game in his hands.

“I guess it’s like a cornerback in football,” Holbrook said. “He gets burned and he still wants the next one to come his way.”

The Gators (16-18, 5-7) enter the weekend series after a road win over Florida State Tuesday night. But Pankake said Florida’s record does not reflect the talent level of its roster.

South Carolina and Florida have been among the most successful programs in collegiate baseball in recent years, with both schools appearing in the College World Series three consecutive years. The high level of play has given rise to what Holbrook called a healthy rivalry between the two schools.

“Their record is not what it’s been the last several years, but I can assure you their talent level is on par,” Holbrook said.

The coach announced senior Nolan Belcher will start for the Gamecocks tonight, and sophomore Jordan Montgomery will be on the mound for Friday’s game. Montgomery, who returned last weekend from a stress reaction injury in his throwing arm, will not be on a strict pitch count.

The starter for Saturday has not been decided, but Holbrook said he was very impressed with senior Colby Holmes’ outing at Tennessee last weekend.

Despite that South Carolina holds a three-game lead over Florida in the SEC standings, the team is not overconfident as it opens its second consecutive road series.

“There’s only so much you can say about a team, looking at their record,” Pankake said. “They’re a very talented baseball team. We know that going in there. We’re going to have to play some really good baseball to win a couple of games, if we can.”


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