Chad Holbrook on decision to start Jordan Montgomery vs. Campbell: 'He calms rough waters'

South Carolina pitcher Jordan Montgomery gives his team a sense of calm when he's on the mound, says coach Chad Holbrook. (AP Photo/Liz Condo)

COLUMBIA - South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook talked earlier this week about possibly holding pitcher Jordan Montgomery's start until Saturday.

It wasn't an automatic decision to start Montgomery in the opening game of the NCAA Columbia Regional, but Holbrook settled Wednesday night on starting the postseason with his ace on the mound. Holbrook knows every game is critically important this time of year, even against the No. 4 seed.

So he took no chances against Campbell. Holbrook said he was never close to holding his ace for Saturday.

"We have the utmost respect for Campbell, and we're going to try to win our first game," Holbrook said. "We felt like to win our first game we need to put our most experienced guy out there who's had the most success in NCAA tournament play. If he was healthy, it was an easy decision.

"We have the utmost confidence in all three of those guys (Montgomery, pitcher Jack Wynkoop and pitcher Wil Crowe), but Jordan has got a little bit of separation from an experience standpoint. NCAA tournament is a little bit different. The intensity is a little higher. It's nice to have a cool customer in Jordan Montgomery out there to throw that first game."

Holbrook talked about the sense of calm Montgomery gives his teammates when he's standing on the mound. The junior has pitched in some of the biggest games in recent years, including a complete game shutout at North Carolina in last season's super regional win.

This season, Montgomery has a 7-5 record with a 3.52 ERA. He's struck out 86 batters in 92 innings, with 29 walks.

In the postseason, Montgomery usually hits another gear. That's what Holbrook hopes to see Friday, and for the rest of his team's NCAA tournament run.

"That was part of our thinking," Holbrook said. "He kind of puts our team at ease a little bit, but I think our team feels comfortable with all our guys. Our players, they aren't smart enough to realize that, I don't think. 'Oh, I'm going to take a deep breath and relax because Jordan is on the mound.' They ain't that smart. I think, maybe, I feel that way from time to time.

"Ultimately, our players are comfortable with our guys. Jordan has that way of - he calms rough waters. Even when he gets behind, or even when he gets in a pinch, he has a way of keeping his team in the game. He's consistently done that here."