March 13, 2009
The University of South Carolina baseball team can be pretty impressive when it gets on a roll offensively.
No one knows that better than Mississippi State junior pitcher Greg Houston.
In one of his first outings as a freshman in 2007, Houston pitched 3 2/3 innings and allowed 12 runs (six earned) on 15 hits in a 20-3 loss.
Houston believes another powerful South Carolina hitting team will pressure the MSU pitching staff this weekend in the first Southeastern Conference series.
"Offense is always one of their strong points," Houston said. "They have an offensive mind-set and they are always on the attack hitting. That''s what gives them success."
Houston hopes to get an opportunity to pitch when the Bulldogs play host to the Gamecocks at 6:30 tonight, 2 p.m. Saturday, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Dudy Noble Field.
"I''m always ready for South Carolina after my freshman year," Houston said. "I''m the kind of person that when something like that happens to me, I''m ready to get back out there. I''m not scared of South Carolina."
In five appearances and nine innings this season, Houston hasn''t allowed a run and has a save. He will more than likely see some time on the mound in relief against South Carolina.
The Bulldogs are expected to start Tyler Whitney (1-0, 0.82 ERA) tonight and freshman Nick Rout (2-0, 1.42) Saturday.
MSU coach John Cohen said Sunday''s pitcher hasn''t been set.
"We just don''t have a whole lot of guys that you feel comfortable with being an every day guy in our league and we''re going to play matchups as best we can because that is the nature of our club," Cohen said.
Cohen has several players who can contribute and he hopes the rain will stay away to give them a chance to get their first taste of SEC action.
MSU also opened at home last season and dropped two out of three games to the University of Mississippi.
The SEC season spun out of control from that point as the Bulldogs finished with a 9-21 mark.
Cohen likes the effort his players have given and said that is the key because the talent level is not that strong.
"I think all of the preseason polls and results from a year ago kind of indicate where we are from talent and skill level," Cohen said. "Still, the players have bought into everything we''ve tried to do."
The Gamecocks (10-2) will try to get back on the winning track after losing to Wofford 16-8 Wednesday.
South Carolina coach Ray Tanner knows beginning the SEC schedule in Starkville will be a challenge.
"I''ve played against (Cohen''s) teams at Kentucky and now that he''s at Mississippi State, I know what he''s about and I know his intensity level," Tanner said. "His guys are going to be ready to play."
n Ole Miss at Vanderbilt: The records are similar going into the SEC opening series and Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco expects a competitive series.
Ole Miss (9-3) and Vanderbilt (10-4) meet in Nashville, Tenn., at 6 tonight, 3 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. Sunday.
"It seems like every time we play Vandy, it''s a dogfight and a very close game," Bianco said. "We''ll have to be at our best. The things you can count on from a Vandy team are they are going to pitch and play good defense. They are going to play the game right and hard with a lot of energy."
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin has a squad with many new faces and an experienced pitching staff.
"I enjoy coaching this group and I hope they keep improving," Corbin said. "Our schedule is set up where we start and end (the SEC schedule) at home, so we hope to start and finish on a good note."
Bianco has been pleased with the offense this season, but pitching has been a concern.
Bianco is looking for consistency from his pitchers. He plans to throw Drew Pomeranz (1-0, 2.57) today, Phillip Irwin (2-0, 1.72) Saturday, and Aaron Barrett (0-1, 9.24) Sunday.
Bianco moved Barrett to the back end of the rotation to get him into a rhythm.
"I think he''s terrific and one of the best arms we''ve got, but hasn''t had a lot of success out there yet," Bianco said. "We''ve been working on it and figuring it out."
n Georgia at Alabama: The Crimson Tide have the biggest challenge in opening the SEC schedule by playing host to the top-ranked Bulldogs.
Georgia''s'' 14-0 start doesn''t surprise Alabama coach Jim Wells.
"Just looking at their roster, they have a lot of key guys back from last year even though they lost some guys," Wells said. "They are a talented group that has played for the national championship."
The Bulldogs lost to Fresno State in the championship series at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., last season.
The Crimson Tide (9-4) bounced back from an 8-7 loss to Auburn on Tuesday to defeat Samford 11-6 on Wednesday.
Wells said Alabama has played better against lesser competition than it will see against Georgia, but is beginning to swing the bat better.
Alabama plans to use Austin Hyatt (3-0, 1.89) today, Adam Morgan (2-0, 2.65) Saturday, and Austin Graham (0-0, 7.71) Sunday.
2. Walters column: Prep football season coming closer LOCAL COLUMNS