Gamecocks swept by Kentucky; Look to improve against Florida
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.