Gamecocks looking forward to another shot at North Carolina

Gamecocks looking forward to another shot at North Carolina

**Story by Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe**

Chad Holbrook isn't calling Tuesday's matchup in Charlotte against North Carolina a big game. And considering it's a mid-week, non-conference game, it isn't. 

But don't think the Gamecocks don't want to beat their border rival, especially after getting pounded by the Tar Heels 15-0 last season. 

"Every game is big, but we definitely want to get revenge on those guys," second baseman LT Tolbert said. "That's a little bit more motivation, but we're going to go out and play like we usually do."

Hill's no-hit performance lifts SC over Vanderbilt 

The Gamecocks (21-10) need a good showing against No. 4 North Carolina (26-6) after losing two of three to Vanderbilt over the weekend and dropping four of their last six SEC games. Their last three losses have been particularly painful — a 6-5 loss to Auburn on a walk-off home run, a 7-6 loss to Vandy on a couple of bizarre plays and a brutal 5-3 loss to Vandy after holding a 3-2 lead with two out in the ninth. 

South Carolina bounced back on Sunday with a 6-1 win behind Adam Hill's six-inning no-hitter and Tolbert's three-run homer. 

After a tough, two-week stretch, the Gamecocks need to keep swinging the bats and put together a winning streak.

"The way that we have lost the two games (against Vanderbilt) and then came out today and swung the bat well, I think we can build on it and keep it going," Tolbert said. 

North Carolina and South Carolina will play at 7 p.m. at BB&T Park in Uptown Charlotte, home of the Triple-A Charlotte Knights. Holbrook, a UNC graduate and former assistant coach there, called it "a fun game to go play" with "a great atmosphere." But as usual for a mid-week game, he will not pitch his starting rotation and aces, saving them for the SEC series against Mississippi State this weekend. He likely will start red-shirt freshman Cody Morris (2-0 1.62) and also use Colby Lee (1-0, 1.29) and some combination of John Parke, Graham Lawson and others. 

"I'm sure North Carolina is the same way, we are not going to pitch anybody to jeopardize a weekend, because we have a big one next weekend," Holbrok said. "We're two games over .500 (in SEC play) after some helter-skelter things and we've got three games coming up at home and I feel good about trying to create some momentum."

Perhaps the biggest news for South Carolina is the return of closer Tyler Johnson, who has missed the last 20 games with a sore arm. Johnson, who throws in the high-90s, is considered one of the top relievers in the country and a potential first-round draft pick. 

The Gamecocks need Johnson back after its bullpen has struggled in recent weeks. South Carolina is 10-9 in games decided by three runs or less, 3-5 in the SEC. It has blown three leads with two outs in the ninth. 

Holbrook said Johnson could throw an inning against North Carolina to get some work.

"We have had a lot of close games and I'm knocking anybody on this team, but when Tyler Johnson runs out there, it's different when he runs out there," OF/DH Alex Destino said. "We are very excited, I'm just hoping and praying everything comes out good, and he comes out just like he was."

Destino, who leads the team with 25 RBI, is from Weaverville, N.C. Like Tolbert, he's looking forward to another shot at the Tar Heels.

"They beat us pretty good last year and I know Coach Holbrook has a lot of ties to North Carolina, I'm from North Carolina, so it is a big game for us and our whole program," he said. "It's going to be very exciting. BB&T is one of my favorite ballparks I have ever played in. I love that game."

Destino was recruited by North Carolina, but chose South Carolina over the Tar Heels.  

"I know a lot of guys on that team," he said, "so it will be fun for me."