Bucs hoping to continue momentum against USC

Fresh off a three-game Big South Conference sweep of UNC Asheville, the recharged Charleston Southern baseball team tackles a much bigger opponent tonight in Columbia.

Charleston Southern (11-16) visits No. 15 South Carolina in a televised game (SportsSouth) today at 7 p.m., facing a Gamecocks squad (22-6) which is riding high as well, having swept Texas A&M this past weekend.

CSU coach Stuart Lake, a former assistant under Ray Tanner at South Carolina, says all games against the Gamecocks or Clemson are special for his players.

“It’s special because most of our guys either grew up Clemson or South Carolina fans, so this is a great opportunity to compete in front a large crowd against one of the top programs in the country,” said Lake. “We know who they are but we view it as another opportunity to get better. Certainly our players will have no problem getting excited for this game.”

CSU will send junior right-hander Stephen Leopard (1-1, 5.23 ERA) to the mound. Leopard’s father played football at South Carolina in the early 1980s.

“It’s a big thing for him and we’re excited to be giving him this opportunity,” Lake said.

The Bucs are seeking their first road win of the season, but are suddenly more confident after the weekend’s conference sweep. Junior outfielder Zack Hagaman was named the Big South Conference Player of the Week after collecting eight hits, including three home runs, and nine RBIs in the series.

Sophomore center fielder Bobby Ison, a Stratford High product, is hitting .343 with a team-high 16 RBIs. Ison has hit lead-off for most of the season but moved to second over the weekend. Freshman second baseman Kevin Hickey collected six hits from the leadoff position over the weekend.

“Bobby is such a good hitter and we always felt if we could find another leadoff guy, Bobby was suited well for the No. 2 spot,” said Lake. “Hickey had a great weekend and Bobby just continues to be our leader offensively.”

South Carolina leads the overall series with CSU, 69-11, and the Gamecocks will be heavy favorites tonight. Lake is focusing on the bigger picture.

“For us, and for South Carolina, the important games are those conference games,” the coach said. “We have renewed confidence after the way we played this weekend. We’re back in the race and we feel a lot better about our chances. At the same time, we want to play well. It’s a big stage and it’s a fun game to be a part of.”