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UK-USC BATTLE HIGHLIGHTS WEEKEND
March 28, 2008

SCS.comThis weekendís college baseball preview focuses on the early SEC East impact series taking place in Columbia, South Carolina Friday through Sunday. The #14 Kentucky Wildcats make the trip to Sarge Frye Field to take on the #7 South Carolina Gamecocks. Both teams would like to keep pace with first place Florida or with a little help from LSU, maybe even overtake the top spot in east. Who will emerge from this showcase showdown and potentially take the SEC East lead? Here's a complete look into the weekend ahead.

Series of the Weekend

#14 Kentucky (21-2 overall, 4-2 SEC) at #7 South Carolina (16-6 overall, 4-2 SEC)

In the tight SEC East race, the Wildcats travel to Columbia this weekend. Having dropped two of three last week in Auburn, John Cohenís Cats come into the series having defeated Xavier 5-2 on Tuesday. Meanwhile, all Ray Tannerís Gamecocks have done is post wins in five of their last six games. This includes sweeping Mississippi State at the Sarge last weekend, by a combined score of 23-5, and splitting a pair of games during the mid-week.

Both pitching staffs will be tested this weekend. Kentucky comes in hitting .354 on the year, while South Carolina is hitting .315 as a team. UK is lead by senior right-fielder Sawyer Carroll (.481, 7 HR, 9 doubles) and senior second baseman Ryan Wilkes (.458, 3 HR, 4 doubles). Notice that we did not mention junior centerfielder Colin Cowgill until now. Well all that he has done is hit at a .364 clip with 6 HRs, 10 doubles, and 2 triples. There is not an easy out in the Wildcat as everyone in the starting lineup has a batting average of at least .308.

South Carolina junior Andrew Crisp comes in carrying a 15-game hitting streak and junior James Darnell holds a 10-game streak of his own. For the season, Crisp is hitting .355; however, he only has one extra base hit on the season. Darnell is hitting .330 with 5 HRs and 28 RBI. Junior shortstop Reese Havens leads the team in hitting with a .396 average, 7 HRs, and 32 RBI, while junior first baseman Justin Smoak continues to put up numbers that many are familiar with in Columbia, .345 average, 5 HRs, 7 doubles, and 22 RBI. Smoak is only five homeruns away from breaking the schoolís record. As a team the Gamecocks have hit 35 HRs and 37 doubles on the season.

Pitching will be at a premium at the hitter friendly Sarge Frye Field. The Wildcats will most likely send out a rotation of junior Chris Rusin (3-1, 2.33 ERA, 26 K), junior Scott Green (2-0, 2.70, 37 K), and senior Greg Dombrowski (4-0, 1.75, 23 K). Rusin struck out 10 last Friday night while going the distance in a 2-0 loss. Green and Dombrowski will look to do better this weekend as neither managed to make it through the fifth. There have not been many save opportunities for Kentucky due to the offensive output; however, the team does own four saves and a mighty ERA of 2.35.

South Carolina should counter with their rotation of junior Mike Cisco (4-0, 2.45 ERA, 23 K), junior Will Atwood (2-0, 3.10, 18 K), and sophomore Blake Cooper (3-2, 3.41, 15 K). Cisco took a shutout into the eighth last week before surrendering a run. Cooper worked a season-long eight innings in the Sunday ballgame. He struck out three, walked two, while scattering 10 hits. Senior Brandon Todd has two of the teams three saves, while senior Curtis Johnson leads the bullpen with 17 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings pitched. The team ERA is over a run higher than Kentucky at 3.50; however, the team has only given up 79 earned runs.

Look for high scoring games this weekend because outs will be like panning for gold. South Carolina is back on a roll, while Kentucky comes in reeling a little and making its second straight SEC road trip. Both teams are fighting to keep pace with Florida and Georgia in the SEC East, so look for close ball games. I am going with Carolina taking the series two games to one.

Remaining Top Five Series to Watch

Southern Cal (11-11, 2-1 Pac 10) at #1 Arizona State (22-1, 0-0 Pac 10)

The schedule makers were unkind to the Trojans by sending them to Tempe a week after they hosted Arizona in the conference opener. The Trojans did take two of three from the Wildcats but a couple of mid-week losses to Loyola-Marymount have most likely quelled any momentum that USC had built last weekend. The Sun Devils will open conference play after suffering their first defeat last weekend at the hands of Northern Colorado. They did bounce back to take their next three games following the loss, including an 11-3 defeat of #9 UC-Irvine. I look for the Sun Devils to remain hot by sweeping the Trojans in Tempe.

#2 Miami, FL (19-2, 7-1 ACC) at Duke (21-5, 4-5 ACC)

The Hurricanes roll into Durham having posted 7 or more runs in 13 of their 21 games this season. Mother Nature played a big roll in last weekendís series in Miami with Wake Forest, in which the Hurricanes took both games by 17-4 and 23-2. Hopefully, Jim Morris does not have a travel curfew issue like the last trip to Raleigh two weeks ago, so that we can get all 27 scheduled innings in. Duke comes in having dropped two of three to Georgia Tech in Atlanta last weekend. Two mid-week wins for the Blue Devils has them on a three game win streak. If Duke can get some pitching to offset the Miami hitting, then they have a chance in the series. I am going to pick the Canes 2 games to 1.

#30 Nebraska (19-3, 5-0 Big XII) at #10 Texas (17-6, 4-2 Big XII)

This is huge early impact series in the Big XII this weekend in Austin. Nebraska comes in on a four game win streak; yes I am aware of the 8-8 tie this past Sunday. The only question for Husker fans is are you sure you donít want to see some more of Northern Colorado in Lincoln? Well at least they are finished playing them for this season after six games. Texas took two of three last weekend in Lubbock against Texas Tech and had to go to extras to get a win on Tuesday at home against a scrappy Oral Roberts team. Look for the home team to take two of three in Austin.

#5 Long Beach State (17-4, 0-0 Big West) at #28 California (15-5, 2-1 Pac 10)

The Dirtbags have been on a roll with a series win over #12 Rice and sweeps of #13 Wichita State, Southern Cal, and #24 UCLA. They did drop a 7-5 decision at Pepperdine on Tuesday. Cal takes a weekend off from Pac 10 play after opening with a series win at Washington State. Having dropped their last two games in extra innings, look for the Bears to come out hungry at home in Berkeley. They might come out hungry but look for them to hibernate back to the cave after getting beat two games to one.

Five Other Series Worth Keeping an Eye On

Arkansas (15-9, 2-4 SEC West) at #11 Vanderbilt (16-6, 3-3 SEC East)

Both teams are trying to keep pace in their respective divisions. Look for close games with the Commodores winning two games.

Southern Mississippi (15-7, 2-1 CUSA) at #12 Rice (18-7, 3-0 CUSA)

USM has not faired well against the Owls since they joined the conference. Look for the trend to continue. Owls get the sweep.

#24 UCLA (10-9, 0-0 Pac 10) at #6 Arizona (13-7, 1-2 Pac 10)

Arizona took a bit of a hit last week at Southern Cal. Look for the Wildcats to bounce back with two wins this weekend.

#17 Mississippi (15-9, 3-3 SEC West) at Alabama(13-11, 2-4 SEC West)

The Rebels have been reeling a little, while Alabama seems to be gaining confidence. Tide with the upset this weekend, 2-1.

LSU (15-8, 2-4 SEC West) at #26 Florida (18-5, 5-1 SEC East)

Are the Gators back after a couple of years hiatus? Looks like it and they take another series 2-1 to maintain the perch in the SEC.

Other series of note

NC State at #3 North Carolina
#4 Florida State at Wake Forest
East Carolina at Central Florida
Notre Dame at Cincinnati
St. Johnís at Seton Hall
College of Charleston at Georgia Southern
Florida Atlantic at Louisiana-Monroe
Georgia at Mississippi State

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