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Nov. 6, 2007

Columbia, S.C. – South Carolina head baseball coach Ray Tanner met with the media last week to discuss fall baseball and his squad as it prepares for the 2008 season. The Gamecocks open up the schedule on Friday, Feb. 22 with a three-game series vs. East Carolina at Sarge Frye Field.

(On fall practice)
“I felt like we had a really good fall practice. I’m especially proud of the older guys and their work ethic. Guys that have been in the program for a while. They’ve been out playing in the summer and really didn’t have to come out and prove themselves this fall. I felt like they worked hard and played with the type of enthusiasm and work ethic that we needed to have because of the younger players that we have in the program. Overall I thought it was a good fall for us.”

“We’re banged up a little bit. Reese (Havens) missed some time. (James) Darnell missed some time. They seem to be okay. We had a couple extra weeks this year compared to previous years because of the new legislation. We get a couple of extra weeks in the fall and we lose a couple of weeks in the spring. It was a good fall.”

(On the play of the freshmen)
“Well, as we stand here on November 1st, it’s the end of our fall team segment; we have two guys that are true freshmen that could get a chance to play right away. One, being Whit Merrifield. He came in being an infield/outfield guy that looks to have the early nod to play centerfield for us. Also Justin Hopper who we recruited as a pitcher/position player. We gave him an opportunity to see what he could do as a position player. He was a pretty successful hitter at every level he’s played at, and had a good fall for us offensively. He’s a guy that if we had to start today would probably start in leftfield. They have to come back out in the preseason workouts in January and February and prove themselves all over again. Those are the two freshmen that stand out who could get some immediate time.”

“We thought Merrifield would be a candidate for his athleticism and his ability to run, and the fact that we were probably going to move Andrew Crisp back to the infield. Now those two could flip-flop on occasion, but we like having the more veteran, experienced guy in the infield. I think Andrew’s a true middle infielder. He has a very good hands and is a little older now, and I think it takes a little bit of the pressure off of Whit by putting him in the outfield. Justin Hopper is a guy that surprised us. We didn’t expect him to swing the bat as well as he did. He’s a good runner as well. We’ll see how it goes, but like I said, November 1st, if I had to make a lineup, those two guys would be in it.”

“There are more guys that can run. They can go from first to third. They can score from first on a ball in the alley. Merrifield if he can stay in the lineup, I think will lead the team in stolen bases. He’s an exciting player. He has great genes. His dad was the best player in the history of baseball at Wake Forest. I think he got a cup of coffee in the big leagues. We like what he brings to the table and I think they will hit for average. They’re not power guys. “

(On the pitchers)
Hindsight’s 20/20, but we took some time off this fall from some of our veteran guys. (Mike) Cisco never threw a pitch. Blake Cooper never threw a pitch. Curtis Johnson threw one inning. (Will) Atwood threw two innings. Jay Brown only threw a couple. (Jordan) Costner did not throw. He’s coming off an injury. Dyson throws his first bullpen today. We’ve got some guys that have been in the program and we expect to do good things for us that we didn’t see. It gave the other guys the opportunity to pitch in scrimmages a lot. We’ve got to count on those guys when the season starts. Atwood, Cisco, we need Costner back out of the bullpen, and we’d like to get Dyson healthy so we can see what he can do. We’ve got a team that lineup wise, position player wise, defensively, we should be as good as anybody to be quite frank with you. I don’t want to put pressure on these guys, but that’s about as good as it gets in college baseball what we do defensively and offensively. The way we line up. Who knows if we’ll hit .220 or .320 is the thing, but it’s a good-looking lineup. Pitching wise, we need to make some jumps. Mike Cisco has won some big games for us here. I think he figured in the two Clemson wins last year. He’s a quality pitcher. He’s got to elevate his game. Will Atwood, he’s got to elevate his game. Curtis Johnson, 31 appearances last year, did a nice job. He’s got to be back there again for us. We need to have a healthy Jay Brown. Craig Thomas, a wildcard, a guy that’s pretty good. He was hurt early in his career, but will get a chance to prove what he can do now. We need for him to be good. I don’t think it’s a situation those guys have to have era’s under 2.00. I think offensively we’ll give them run support, but we need for our pitching staff to elevate-individually and as a group.

(On who will be this year’s closer)
It’s a little bit unsettled, I think. You don’t have a guy going in. I think Curtis Johnson will get some opportunities. I think Jordan Costner’s a candidate. He’s a little bit of a different look guy. He’s a lot like (former Carolina pitcher) Chad Blackwell. He doesn’t throw as hard, but I’m not sure how all that will play out. Sam Dyson is a hard thrower. If he’s healthy, he can get to the mid-90’s. We need to take a look at it. It could be a shared situation. We’ll just see how it goes. Curtis Johnson will have the early opportunity. He had 31 appearances last year. He’ll have the first look out of the bullpen.

(On why some pitchers didn’t throw during the fall)
“I think I’m a guy that likes to work, work, work, and work. Sometimes you have to back away. I haven’t been good at that. I know Coach Calvi was a proponent of giving those guys some time off. You’re talking about fall, spring, and summer. Even in the big leagues guys take off in the winter. Those guys weren’t taking any time off. They were pitching in the fall, pitching in the spring, pitching in the Cape Cod League in the summer. Your arm’s not designed to throw a baseball, so we decided we need to shut these guys down a little bit. We wanted to give them some time to workout, get in the weight room and give them a chance to get their bodies back. Hopefully, the rest will do a lot for them. Last year, we ended up giving Cisco a week, week and a half off during the season. Hopefully, by giving him the fall off, we can avoid those types of situations. There comes a point when you need to give pitchers some time off.”

(On whether this year’s team will be a power hitting team)
“I don’t know. I think we’re going to hit some home runs. We have 74 home runs returning. I don’t expect Darnell, Smoak to miss a beat. Disher at this point is better than he was a year ago. He had, what I would say, the best fall out of all the position players.”