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March 6, 2012
Maybe it's a sign of the times with the new, toned-down bats introduced to college baseball in 2011.
In the first 10 games, the South Carolina pitching staff was dominant most of the time, compiling a 1.77 ERA in 91.1 innings pitched and allowing 49 hits and 22 runs, while fanning 100 batters.
The Gamecocks lead the country in fewest hits allowed with an average of 4.83 hits given up every nine innings.
On the other hand, the Gamecocks have a team batting average of .267 (88-for-329) with nine homers in 10 games. The highest batting average among players with five or more starts is the .294 (10-for-34) mark belonging to Christian Walker.
In other words, for the first time in recent memory USC doesn't have an everyday starter batting .300 with nearly 20 percent of the regular season complete.
Yet, the Gamecocks carry an impressive 9-1 mark and a No. 3 national ranking into Wednesday's 7 p.m. home game against UNC-Asheville. Freshman right-hander Joel Seddon is slated to make his first career start for USC.
"Even though we won the Clemson series, we're not satisfied where we are because we haven't played the way we're capable of playing," Associate head coach Chad Holbrook said on 107.5 FM The Game on Monday. "We have some tough challenges coming onto our schedule in a relatively quick amount of time. We have a talented group, but it might take some of our young guys 10, 15 or 20 games to realize you can't get by on talent alone. You have to outfight and outcompete an opponent."
USC amassed a .255 batting average (28-for-110) in the just completed three-game rivalry series with Clemson, winning two of three. The Gamecocks reached double figures in hits in one game - Saturday's 9-6 victory at Carolina Stadium in which they collected 11 hits, including homers by Adam Matthews and LB Dantzler.
Holbrook, who serves as USC's hitting coach, wants to see better approaches at the plate from his players as they prepare for the final non-conference weekend of the 2012 season.
"Offensively, we have to grow a little bit and get some of our younger guys some experience," Holbrook said. "Some of our older guys need to continue playing up to their ability level. We've been a little inconsistent offensively so far this year, but we think we will be a very good offensive team as we go forward."
If the USC hitters are able to match the production of the USC pitchers, a three-peat at the College World Series is within reach. The Gamecocks top the SEC in team ERA and are the only school below 2.00 in that category. Conversely, USC is 10th in the conference in batting.
"Our pitchers have been phenomenal with the way they have pitched, competed and thrown strikes," Holbrook said. "They have enabled us to have the record that we do. We feel good about winning the series against our rival. But we have to get better."
The rejuvenated Matthews went 5-of-12 at the plate against Clemson and raised his average by exactly 100 points in the process to .258, earning him the Tom Price Award as USC's MVP in the rivalry series against Clemson.
"One of the things we took away from the Clemson series was that it looked like Adam got comfortable," Holbrook said. "He got off to such a slow start (.158 at start of CU series) and he was putting a lot of pressure on himself. But he performed well this past weekend and got some big hits. He had a big home run on Saturday to help us win the series. One positive offensive thing was Adam played like he was capable."
For the first time this season, Holbrook says Matthews took advantage of his rare combination of athleticism, speed and power.
"He is an explosive athlete, so when Adam puts the ball in play, he has a chance to do some great things for us," Holbrook said. "Sometimes he tries too hard and puts a lot of pressure on himself. It's hard to play this game offensively if you treat every at-bat as a do-or-die situation. One of the best coaches I ever had said if you treat every at-bat like live-or-die, you're going to die a ton and your career in this game is going to be very short-lived.
"Adam can stay on top of the ball a little bit better, which he did this weekend, and hit line drives and ground balls. He had a chopper (Sunday) and drove in a run. His swing was a lot more compact this weekend. He was on top of the ball a lot better. We need to keep putting Adam in situations where he can succeed. We were thrilled with the way he performed this weekend."
Defensively, USC was able to pull out a 3-2 victory over Clemson in Friday night's neutral site game despite committing three errors. The Gamecocks also made three errors on Sunday and now sit seventh in the SEC in team defense with a fielding percentage of .968.
The key, Holbrook said, was making sure one error doesn't turn into two because of a lack of focus.
"If they make a mistake, it's important they don't make another one because of the way they handled their previous failure," Holbrook said. "They don't let it wear on them. You just have to focus on making the next play. You can't worry about the last one."
Freshman shortstop Joey Pankake might be fighting the mental demons right now after struggling with the glove in the three games against Clemson. The Easley, S.C., native has six errors in 10 games for a .838 fielding percentage.
"Joey beats himself up a little bit. He wants to do so well so bad," Holbrook said. "That part we like about him. But shortstops are going to make errors. When he makes an error, it bothers him. We want to see that to an extent, but not to the point where it affects the next play. He is extremely talented. We just don't want him to get to the point where he is afraid to make a mistake. You can't play shortstop with that kind of mindset. We'll keep working with him every day and we think he'll be our shortstop for the rest of the year."
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