Monthly Archives: March 2012
I think the only appropriate way to start this post is by congratulating the Kentucky baseball team on their 21-0 record. That’s an amazing feat in college baseball, and sweeping the Gamecocks this weekend showed that the Wildcats cannot be discounted. Well played Kentucky.
I’ve put off recapping the Kentucky series because I just don’t know what to say. The Gamecocks had the lead in both of the first two games of the series, but couldn’t manage to hold on to it. They were able to tie the Sunday game, but couldn’t push ahead. Why? Well, once again, the Gamecocks had a problem with leaving runners on base. Over the course of the weekend, they stranded 29 runners. That doesn’t seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, but when you’re playing on the road against a team who has an 18 game winning streak on the line, you better be able to bring your runners home. As the SEC season starts, fundamentals become increasingly important. Bunts must be laid down, routine fly balls cannot be dropped, baserunning mistakes cannot be made, and throws must be on point. The Gamecocks made these kinds of errors (except for the throwing…I don’t remember any offline throws), and it cost them. Hopefully on what I imagine was an exceptionally long bus ride back from Lexington, they were able to reflect and come out with a renewed determination to win.
Looking ahead. The Gamecocks host the top-ranked Florida Gators on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I think it’s safe to say that every baseball fan in both Columbia and Gainesville has had this weekend marked on their respective calendars since last June when the ‘Cocks defeated the Gators to win the CWS. Even better? ESPNU is kicking off it’s college baseball coverage in Columbia for the Thursday night game.
Florida is number 1 for reason. The Gators returned an awful lot of players from last year’s team, giving them a pretty cohesive unit to begin with. South Carolina took 2 of 3 from Florida last year in Gainesville, and then of course, won both games in the CWS final. Florida is coming off a sweep of Vanderbilt, whereas the Gamecocks are coming off being swept by Kentucky. Florida has the advantage when it comes to hitting: their team average is .309. USC’s is .285. South Carolina has the better team ERA (2.23). Florida’s is 2.67. The Gators also lead the SEC in slugging percentage and have allowed the fewest walks in the league. Of course, opponents are also hitting .241 against them.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about this series. After last weekend, the Gamecocks have a lot to prove. They need to be essentially flawless this weekend if they want to have a hope of beating Florida. I don’t think the Gators are invincible, but I guarantee they are beyond prepared to come to Columbia this weekend. The Gators are going to play solid baseball, and South Carolina had better be prepared for it. The way I see it, this is a make-it-or-break-it type weekend for the Gamecocks. If they can rebound from the losses against Kentucky, stop making mental errors, and improve on bringing runners home, I think we’ll be ok. If not….it’s going to be an awfully long season in Columbia.
Some things of note.
- Ray Tanner earned his 1,100 career victory with the Gamecocks’ victory over Furman on Tuesday night.
- Michael Roth took over the DH role on Tuesday night, after pinch hitting during the Kentucky series.
- Joey Pankake was back in the starting lineup this weekend. He was 2-2 on Saturday.
- Erik Payne has been utterly stellar at the plate this season with a .419 average and a .710 slugging percentage.
- Hunter Privette has some filthy pitches in his repertoire. Talk about a fun pitcher to watch.
- At home vs. Florida, Thursday 3/22 at 7:30 (televised on ESPNU)
- At home vs. Florida, Friday 3/23 at 7 p.m. (televised on CSS)
- At home vs. Florida, Saturday 3/24 at 1 p.m. (televised on CSS)
The Gamecocks are 16-4 on the season. They are currently ranked #8 in the Baseball America poll and #6 in the Collegiate Baseball poll.
The Gamecocks took on UNC-Asheville in a midweek contest and then hosted Princeton for the weekend series. Carolina emerged victorious in all four games, bringing their season record to 13-1. They’ll host Charleston Southern on Tuesday night and Appalachian State on Wednesday night before heading to Kentucky to open SEC play.
So what happened this weekend? Some good things and some slightly less good things.
Good news first. Carolina’s pitching staff combined for 35 strikeouts this weekend. Impressive by any standard. What’s more impressive is that to balance those 35 Ks, the Gamecocks only issued 3 walks. That’s pretty much unheard of. The staff gave up 18 hits, and finished with a 1.00 ERA on the weekend. That brings the stats-to-date to 143 strikeouts, 34walks, 71 hits, 26 runs, a .157 opponent batting average, and a 1.55 ERA in 127.1 innings. It’s ok if you needed to read that sentence several times. It doesn’t sound believable. And here’s the best part: It’s not just the starters who are contributing to these numbers. The Carolina bullpen has been lights-out for the most part. And, if we’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s that depth of pitching wins championships. We’ll see how the Gamecocks do against an SEC opponent this weekend, but I have hope.
Not so good news next. Where, oh where, has the Gamecock offense gone? With the exception of Kyle Martin, Evan Marzilli, Erik Payne, and Christian Walker, the bats were pretty silent this weekend. The Gamecocks struck out 18 times in three days. But that wasn’t the worst of it. They stranded 32 runners. 32. That concerns me. 32 runners stranded against Princeton. That’s something that has to change, or the Gamecocks won’t be able to make it through the SEC season, let alone have the chance for another title run.
The middle infield question. Ray Tanner made some changes up the middle this weekend, and they definitely surprised me. First, Connor Bright started every game at shortstop. Bright had been vying for the starting role at 2nd base, but apparently he got the start at SS after Joey Pankake’s defensive struggles last weekend. Bright did a nice job at short, but whether or not it was good enough to earn him a permanent starting role remains to be seen. Even more surprising was seeing Erik Payne at 2nd base. Payne was the backup utility infielder last season, but didn’t see much time playing behind Adrian Morales. If you recall, Payne hadn’t even been in the conversation about the 2nd base job, and frankly, I thought that Chase Vergason had pretty much wrapped up the starting job after the Clemson series. Looks like I was wrong. Payne had a great weekend, both in the field and at the plate. He had four hits over the course of the weekend, including an RBI double and a huge home run. Looks like he’s a legitimate contender for the starting job. He and Bright made quite the formidable pair this weekend, so maybe Coach Tanner has found what he’s looking for?
Weekend Preview: At Kentucky. The Gamecocks will hit the road this weekend to take on Kentucky in the opening weekend of SEC play. The Wildcats are 16-0 on the season. They are also the only NCAA team without a loss. Kentucky owns the best team batting average in the SEC at .349 with 16 home runs. Their pitching is pretty top notch too, with a 3.25 team ERA with 163 strikeouts in 144 innings (that’s 16.2 more innings than the Gamecocks have played). On paper, this is set to be a terrific weekend series. If the Gamecocks can find their bats, stop stranding runners, and continue to pitch as they have been, they may have a shot at handing UK their first loss(es) of the season. If USC doesn’t find a way to get those runners home, Kentucky is going to have an easy road to victory. I’d say the Gamecocks have the better all-around pitching staff, but Kentucky’s hitters definitely have one leg up on Carolina. Get ready for three extremely hard fought games. The only prediction I have is that the team who makes the fewest mistakes will get the win(s).
This week’s games:
vs. Charleston Southern – 3/13, 7 p.m.
vs. Appalachian State – 3/14, 7 p.m.
at Kentucky – 3/16, 7 p.m. (CSS)
at Kentucky – 3/17, 2 p.m.
at Kentucky – 3/18, 1 p.m. (FS South / FS Carolinas)
As expected, the Carolina / Clemson series this weekend was fantastic. This rivalry is my favorite weekend of the regular season. It is always a series of really good baseball, intensity, and determination to best the other team. Plus it’s usually pretty entertaining to see how creative each fan base can be when it comes to heckling.
I couldn’t make it to Friday night’s game in Charleston, though apparently my cousin was visiting Charleston and his hotel room overlooked center field, which meant that he got to see Evan Marzilli’s game ending (and game saving) catch. I, on the other hand, was straining to hear the outcome of the game over the noise of the bar where my friends and I were spending our Friday night. I did make it to Saturday’s game, where I discovered that it would be much better if my seats were on the aisle so I could get up and pace when the Gamecocks make me nervous. By Sunday, someone who knows something about college baseball finally decided that one of the best rivalries should be able to be watched by the masses, so the computer got hooked up to the TV and I got to see the Gamecocks on the big screen, courtesy of ESPN3.