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Jan. 27, 2011

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina baseball team is ranked No. 7 in the 2011 Baseball America Preseason Top 25, which was released on Thursday. The defending national champions begin the 2011 season on Feb. 18, opening a three-game series with Santa Clara.

South Carolina is one of four teams rated in the publication’s preseason top 25. Defending SEC regular-season champion Florida garnered the preseason No. 1 ranking, with Vanderbilt coming in at No. 4 and LSU ranked 22nd.

The Gamecocks return six position starters from last year’s team as well as several pitchers. Among the returning players are Preseason All-Americans, junior outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and sophomore right-hander Matt Price. Bradley was the 2010 College World Series Most Outstanding Player and the Gamecocks’ leading hitter this past season with a .368 batting average (89-for-242) with 13 HR and 60 RBI. He also had a .473 on-base percentage and a .587 slugging percentage for the season. Price went 5-1 out of the bullpen last year with a 2.26 ERA as well as 10 saves. He struck out 83 batters in 55.2 innings, finishing with an average of 13.41 strikeouts per nine innings, a school record at Carolina.

A pair of sophomore standouts are back as well with Christian Walker returning to first base along with outfielder Evan Marzilli. Both players earned All-CWS and SEC All-Freshman team honors after a strong postseason with Walker also being named a Freshman All-America in 2010. Walker finished with a .327 average including nine HR and 51 RBI. Marzilli ended the year with a .385 average. Senior second baseman Scott Wingo and third baseman Adrian Morales are back in the infield with Adam Matthews returning to the outfield for his junior season also. Morales earned NCAA Regional MVP honors last year with his three home runs in the Columbia Regional. Wingo was an All-SEC Defensive team selection. Matthews hit .307 with seven HR and 31 RBI.

Along with Price, the Gamecocks return a bevy of pitchers that includes junior left-hander Michael Roth. The Gamecock southpaw went 2-1 with a 1.34 ERA in 37 appearances last year. A reliever for almost the entire season, his most notable performances came in Omaha when he defeated Clemson 5-1 in his first start of the year and followed that up with a quality start in the 2-1 victory over UCLA that clinched the national title. Left-handers Tyler Webb, Nolan Belcher, Steven Neff and Adam Westmoreland are also back, as is a strong group of right-handers that includes Colby Holmes, Jose Mata and John Taylor.

Baseball America’s Preseason Top 25

1. Florida
3. TCU
4. Vanderbilt
5. Oklahoma
6. Texas
7. South Carolina
8. Cal State Fullerton
9. Connecticut
10. Clemson
11. Arizona State
12. Florida State
13. Stanford
14. Oregon
15. Virginia
16. Baylor
17. California
18. Rice
19. Arizona
20. College of Charleston
21. Texas A&M
22. LSU
23. St. John’s
24. Miami
25. Tulane