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Focus turns to Bakersfield

After Tuesday’s emotional affair against Clemson, it is now time for the Gamecocks (9-1) to take a deep breath and return to the even keel style of play they’re known for. What was supposed to be a nonconference tune-up before the start of SEC play, South Carolina faces a tough test with No. 30 Cal State Bakersfield this weekend.

Junior Michael Roth will get the ball on Friday night for the Gamecocks for the fourth time this season.

There was more than a bit of extra intensity the last time that South Carolina took the field but after taking two of three from the archrivals, the Gamecocks will leave better prepared for tough challenges like the one presented this weekend.

“I’m relieved that all that’s behind us,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said on Thursday. “The three games we played against Clemson was like another conference weekend. Very intense, quality team. You’re going to be in a lot of those in the SEC. Those games help you grow and understand where you are.”

The Roadrunners (11-2) come to Columbia off of a midweek loss to Fresno State on the road but had rattled off 10 straight victories, including a 2-1 win over No. 10 Arizona State in the Coca-Cola Classic.

“They’re an excellent team from top to bottom,” Tanner said. “They’re excellent. They’re a tremendous team and we have our hands full, no doubt about it. Our fans who follow us closely kind of scout our opponents other than the league. I’ve had a few people comment that we have a tough team coming in. We’re well prepared. We understand that. They’re not sneaking up on us.”

As a team, CSBU is hitting .306 with catcher Jeremy Rodriguez leading the way at .449. He’s one of five players to start all 13 games so far this season for the Roadrunners, which is playing its road series of the season. CBSU did sweep a four-game, neutral site tournament in Surprise, Az.

The pitching staff has put up some sparkling numbers sporting a 1.98 earned run average and 86 strikeouts versus 31 walks. Opponents are hitting just .243 so far this season.

Probable Starting Pitchers

Friday South Carolina Michael Roth (Jr. LHP) 3-0, 1.40 ERA, 19.1 IP, 6 BB, 21 SO
Cal State BakersfieldMike McCarthy (Sr. RHP) 1-1, 1.71 ERA, 21.0 IP, 7 BB, 21 SO

Freshman Forrest Koumas could earn his first career start on Sunday.

Saturday South Carolina Steven Neff (Jr. LHP) 1-0, 4.32 ERA, 8.1 IP, 5 BB, 11 SO
Cal State BakersfieldJonathan Montoya (Jr. LHP) 2-0, 2.95 ERA, 21.1 IP, 7 BB, 15 SO

Sunday South Carolina Forrest Koumas (Fr. RHP) 1-0, 4.26 ERA, 6.1 IP, 2 BB, 8 SO
or Tyler Webb (So. LHP) 2-0, 1.10 ERA, 16.1 IP, 5 BB, 11 SO
Cal State BakersfieldTommy Hoenshell (Jr. RHP) 2-2, 2.05 ERA, 30.2 IP, 1 BB, 20 SO

While the Roadrunners sport a strong staff, the biggest story surrounding the mound this weekend will be on the South Carolina side. Tanner and pitching coach Jerry Meyers are shaking things up a bit in the rotation. Junior Michael Roth will stay in his Friday role but there are changes behind him.

Junior Steven Neff will get the ball on Saturday for his first weekend start since the East Carolina series last year the second weekend of the season. After Neff, it will either be sophomore Tyler Webb or freshman Forrest Koumas.

"I hope Coach Meyers and I have a problems going forward about who our guys are," Tanner said. "It just seemed like the right thing to do right now to give Neff another start out there. Again, we're happy with Tyler but we think Neff needs to get out there."

Koumas tossed 2.1 innings of great baseball before giving up three leadoff runners to begin the top of the ninth inning on Tuesday in Greenville. It was his positive performance, not a negative one from Webb, that has Koumas in consideration for the final start of the weekend.

"I don't think it has anything to do with being unhappy with Tyler," Tanner said. "Tyler has pretty good numbers. We feel like we have to get Neff in a better situation. He pitched pretty well in the preseason. He was relegated to the bullpen because of his experience coming from the bullpen. He might have deserved an opportunity to start that he didn't get."

Sophomore Adam Westmoreland, who threw 77 pitches in a start on Tuesday, will be available on a limited basis in relief. Catcher Dante Rosenberg has not been cleared to play this weekend.

Video: Ray Tanner

Want to be closer to the baseball program? Join The Gamecock Dugout Club. Membership cost is $50 single/$100 couple; $40 senior, single or student; $80 for senior couple. Senior is age 55+. Children may also be added to an adult membership at $25 each. Contact Sharon Hundley via email at hundley@mindspring.com for further details.

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