SAPAKOFF COLUMN: New roles, same script for USC
COLUMBIA -- Two was the most important number Friday at Carolina Stadium as the two-time defending national champion South Carolina Gamecocks won, 2-1, thanks to a two-hit eighth inning in a quick opening-day ballgame against VMI that lasted just over two hours.
But celebratory baseball is about more numbers than one:
Freshmen starters. The quartet of catcher Grayson Greiner, shortstop Joey Pankake, designated hitter Kyle Martin and left fielder Tanner English was joined in Ray Tanner's "pretty set" lineup by two junior transfers, third baseman LB Dantzler and second baseman Chase Vergason.
A lot of change and shakiness out there for a No. 3-ranked team, and some of that showed up with sloppy play in the early innings.
"It's going to take a while," Tanner said. "But you have to win some games as you go."
Sellout crowd. The pre-game ceremony included a gathering of former Gamecocks and 2011 College World Series participants on the mound for fun first-pitch festivities.
The grin on senior pitcher Michael Roth's face was shining from here to Omaha as he saw nine of his ex-teammates approach.
"Some of those guys are very close to me," Roth said. "We're great friends. To be able to play with them last year and form that bond, with all we've been through together and just to be able to see them on that field, it's special because you're celebrating something that we were able to do last year. And it's also a little bittersweet because you want to see Adrian (Morales) at third …"
Roth hesitated and turned to Dantzler, sitting next to him at a the post-game news conference.
"No offense, buddy -- I still love you," Roth said to Dantzler before continuing. "But it's like you just remember the stuff where Adrian's barking at me from third and telling me, 'Throw a strike!' and stuff like that."
Number of jerseys T&T Sports delivered to the Gamecocks' clubhouse at the last minute, prompting praise from Roth and Tanner. An equipment order snafu with another company left South Carolina with uniforms that were missing letters.
Innings pitched by middle reliever Tyler Webb, who held VMI to one hit and no walks before giving way to new closer Forrest Koumas for the final two outs. With ex-closer Matt Price now a starter and a bullpen in transition, Webb and Koumas have heavy lifting ahead.
Extra-base hits in the game. New BBCOR standards, in which metal bats must perform more like wood bats, hit the college game last year, and now freshmen hitters must adjust (BBCOR rules apply to high school baseball beginning this season).
Yes, often the great equalizer.
"Unless you play really poorly," Tanner said, "you can win."
South Carolina's win streak, dating through the 2011 NCAA tournament and to an SEC tournament loss to Georgia.
Thus, pressure on the new guys. They survived a big day.
"It was great," junior center fielder Evan Marzilli said. "Those guys work hard. They play hard. That's really all you can ask of freshmen, especially on opening day. There were a lot of (fans) there, and you really can't feel much in your body."
VMI's spot in the Big South Conference preseason predicted order of finish.
Total pitches for Roth over six innings.
Official time of game. Don't get to Carolina Stadium late, or you might miss one of the two or three runs.
Games remaining before the Gamecocks face Clemson in Charleston on March 2, the first squabble in a three-game Bragging Rights series that starts at The Joe.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter at @sapakoff.