When LB Dantzler lost his footing rounding second base in the sixth inning of last night’s game and dropped to his knees in pain, all of Gamecock Nation held its breath, hoping that the injury wouldn’t be severe enough to keep Dantzler off the field for long.
In this afternoon’s press conference in advance of a series against SEC East bottomdweller Georgia, head coach Chad Holbrook informed the fans that they could breathe a sigh of relief.
“I’m a little bit more optimistic about LB playing this weekend than I was last night sitting up here,” said Holbrook. “He didn’t practice today, but he’s been getting treatments throughout the day and will tomorrow as well. We’ll know more about his availability for the weekend tomorrow around 2:00 or 3:00, but the door is certainly not closed. I’m more optimistic today than I was yesterday.”
“I’m going to do everything I can to be there tomorrow,” said Dantzler. “I’m going to do rehab a couple more times today and tomorrow before the game. Even if it’s painful, if they give me the ‘OK’ I’m going to play.”
The Gamecocks caught a break with Dantzler injuring his left shoulder rather than his right. Holbrook commented multiple times that if he was to pick which shoulder Dantzler had injured, it would be his left. “If I played anywhere but first base or swung righty,” said Dantzler, “they said I would definitely be out this weekend.”
As a left-hander, swinging the bat also puts more strain on the right shoulder. “Most of the time, left handed hitters extend fully with their right arm. Hopefully it won’t be as painful as if he’d injured his right shoulder. But we won’t know that until he swings the bat tomorrow. Or tries to swing the bat tomorrow,” he said with a smile.
Even if the injury keeps Dantzler off the field for all or part of the weekend, he will be counted on to help the team win. “If he can’t go,” said Holbrook, “he’s still going to be on the dress list, and we’ll have him in the dugout. He’s a great teammate and he’s one of our captains, and he can help us win even if he’s not in the game. He can DH, play first, pinch hit, or just be a good teammate.”
Should Dantzler be unable to go on Friday, Kyle Martin would likely replace him in the field and bat in the fifth, sixth, or seventh spot in the batting order. “He’s a great first baseman. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him,” said Dantzler.
This weekend is important for South Carolina because of SEC Tournament seeding. The top 12 teams in the conference advance to the tournament in Hoover, Ala., but the top four receive first round byes and are guaranteed to play at least two games while seeds 5-12 must play a single elimination round on the tournament’s first day. South Carolina holds the fourth seed in the conference by half a game over Mississippi State, who the Gamecocks will meet in Starkville next weekend, while five other teams are bunched within three-and-a-half games of the fourth spot.
“A top four seed is probably important for hosting a Regional and earning a national seed,” said Holbrook. “And for the SEC Tournament as well. You get to have an extra day’s rest and it’s not a lose-and-go-home type of situation. But if we don’t finish in the top four, we can still do some really good things. I think we’ve shown around here that you don’t necessarily have to play well in the SEC Tournament to have a good postseason run.”
Georgia comes in to this weekend’s contest with an 18-28 record, including 5-16 in SEC play, having already been eliminated from SEC Tournament contention. The Bulldogs are led by Dave Perno, who has led the team to three College World Series appearances, including a national championship series appearance in 2008, before falling on hard times in recent years.
Rumors have been swirling for weeks around the Georgia program about the future for Perno, whose 12 years at the helm make him the longest-tenured coach in the SEC. Holbrook contends that it speaks to the strength of the conference. “Georgia’s gone through some tough times. There’s not a team in this league that’s immune to a difficult stretch.”
While this season has not been as smooth as many fans would have hoped, the Gamecocks have a chance to reposition themselves squarely in the national seed conversation with a series win this weekend.