USC’s Pankake SEC player of week

South Carolina shortstop Joey Pankake hit four home runs last week for the Gamecocks. (AP Photo/Eric Francis)

— South Carolina sophomore shortstop Joey Pankake on Monday was named Southeastern Conference player of the week.

In five baseball games last week, Pankake hit 7 for 16 with four home runs, seven runs scored and nine runs batted in. Before that, he had zero homers, four runs and five RBIs this season. He is now on a seven-game hitting streak.

USC needs Pankake to be more of a power hitter this season to account for what the Gamecocks lost with the departure of Christian Walker, their leader in batting average the past two seasons.

In 46 at-bats this season, Pankake is hitting .326 and has a 1.041 on-base plus slugging percentage. Last season, he had two homers and 27 RBIs in 239 at-bats. He hit .264 and his OPS was .732.

Granted, it’s early in the season, and the stats will probably even out during SEC play. But why does Pankake think he has more pop this year?

“I would like to say it’s a lot of skill, but some of it’s a little bit of luck,” he said. “Most people have asked me where I keep the horseshoe. I’m just trying to shorten up (my swing, as compared to how it was last year), hit the ball on the barrel a lot more, and it’s working right now.”

Said USC coach Chad Holbrook: “He’s stronger. He’s more physical. He’s worked really, really hard in the weight room. He’s one of our strongest players as far as throwing up weights. He’s a lot stronger than he was a year ago. I think that’s the main reason for it. The ball jumps off his bat a lot more. But I’m more proud of him with how he’s playing defense, to be quite honest with you.”

Pankake had 17 errors last season in his 66 games played. He has three this season through 14 games he’s played.

USC (13-2) hosts USC Upstate today and Davidson on Wednesday before beginning SEC play Friday at Missouri.