Columbia, S.C. (USC SID) -- South Carolina is ranked No. 7 in the nation in the Baseball America Preseason Top 25 as announced on Monday morning. The Gamecocks begin the 2014 season on Friday, Feb. 14 in the first game of a three-game series at Carolina Stadium.
South Carolina is one of eight SEC schools to be ranked in the preseason poll, and the highest ranked of all the SEC squads. Also ranked is Mississippi State (No. 8), LSU (No. 9), Vanderbilt (No. 10), Alabama (No. 21), Florida (No. 23), Texas A&M (No. 24) and Arkansas (No. 25). Virginia is the preseason No. 1 team.
The Gamecocks return seven position starters, nine pitchers and 18 letterwinners from last year’s Super Regional team. Carolina also features a strong crop of newcomers that were ranked the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation earlier this fall by Baseball America.
Returnees include junior infielder/outfielder Joey Pankake (.311-11-42), junior catcher Grayson Greiner (.298-4-38), junior outfielder Connor Bright (.288-4-22), junior outfielder Tanner English (.283-1-25), sophomore infielder Max Schrock (.282-6-39), junior first baseman Kyle Martin (.288-2-10) and senior designated hitter Brison Celek (.307-1-18). Also back from last year's weekend rotation is junior left-hander Jordan Montgomery (6-1, 1.48 ERA) and freshman left-hander Jack Wynkoop (7-3, 3.09 ERA).
Greiner played this past summer for Team USA and was a 2013 second-team All-SEC selection. Baseball America ranks Greiner the No. 24 best college prospect for the 2014 MLB Draft as well as the No. 2 best catching prospect in the country.
Pankake earned second-team Preseason All-America honors from the NCBWA and is one of the top returning hitters in the SEC and the country. A participant in last year’s Home Run Derby at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Pankake raised his average to .311 last year to go along with 11 homers and 42 RBI and a slugging percentage of .496. Perfect Game USA ranks him No. 30 on the list of top college draft-eligible players for the 2014 MLB Draft with Baseball America listing him No. 40 in the nation.
Montgomery is back in the fold after a solid sophomore campaign. Montgomery’s 1.48 ERA in 2013 ranked second best among SEC pitchers and No. 11 in the nation. Montgomery was 6-1 in 79.0 innings pitched. Opponents hit just .222 against the southpaw. Montgomery’s career postseason record in two seasons at South Carolina is 4-0 with a 0.59 ERA, surrendering just two runs on 15 hits over 30.2 innings. He has allowed just three walks while fanning 26 batters in earning wins over Clemson and Arkansas in 2012 and Liberty and North Carolina in 2013. In his last start of the season, he pitched a four-hit shutout in South Carolina’s 8-0 win over North Carolina in the NCAA Super Regional. Montgomery’s outing was his first complete game of his career. Only four Tar Heel runners advanced as far as second base in the win with none reaching third base the entire game.
English and Martin contributed in 2013 and are back for their junior seasons. English hit .283 (47-for-166) with a .381 on-base percentage with Martin hitting .288 (23-for-80). Both were 2013 NCAA Regional All-Tournament team selections with Martin also the NCAA Regional MVP. English was at the top of his game in last year’s postseason with a .429 average (9-for-21) with six runs scored, seven RBI as well as five stolen bases in six games played. Martin hit .500 (6-for-12) in the 2013 Regional as well as .391 (9-for-23) average with a .520 on-base percentage in the six postseason games.
Schrock and Wynkoop both earned Freshman All-America honors with Wynkoop also a SEC All-Freshman team recipient. Schrock was a second-team selection by Baseball America and the NCBWA after hitting .282 with a .381 on-base percentage and .419 slugging percentage. Schrock’s 14 stolen bases also led the Gamecocks. Wynkoop went 7-3 with a 3.09 ERA and was named Freshman All-America by Collegiate Baseball. He twice won SEC Freshman of the Week honors as well.
South Carolina won the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship in 2010 and 2011 at the College World Series. South Carolina has 11 College World Series appearances, including six in the last 12 years. South Carolina is the only school with 200 or more wins in the last four years (2010 to the present) with a 201-70 record, and the Gamecocks own the second-highest win total in the nation in the last 14 years (2000 to the present) with a 669-271 record. South Carolina is one of five schools to appear in the NCAA Regional every season in the last 14 years, including 11 NCAA Super Regional appearances in that span, one of only two schools to accomplish the feat.
BASEBALL AMERICA PRESEASON TOP 25:
2. Oregon State
4. Cal State Fullerton
5. North Carolina State
6. Florida State
7. South Carolina
8. Mississippi State
9. Louisiana State
17. North Carolina
19. Texas Christian
22. Kansas State
24. Texas A&M