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March 10, 2014

Look back, look ahead: SEC coming



In the first 15 games of the season, South Carolina has swept aside the likes of Bucknell, Presbyterian, Eastern Kentucky, Stetson, Brown and, of course, rival Clemson.

When you ask coach Chad Holbrook about USC's perfect 15-0 start to the 2014 season, he doesn't mince words. In his opinion, the top-ranked Gamecocks should possess a fairly decent record considering who they have faced.

Now the schedule is about to get slightly more challenging.

After facing Furman at home on Tuesday night, USC opens SEC play on Friday with the opener of a key three-game series against No. 21 Ole Miss at Carolina Stadium in the first meeting between the two schools since 2011.

Every weekend should be a war between now and late May when the SEC Tournament concludes in Hoover.

"We've played some teams that we're more gifted than and more talented than," Holbrook said Sunday. "Obviously, we had a big weekend against our rival in which we played very well. But we're going to be challenged in ways we haven't been challenged yet come Friday. Our players know that. One thing I like about my team is they are older, they're mature and they've been through this 30-game SEC regular season schedule, so they know what they're in store for. I don't have to tell them too much.

"They know what's coming."

The following weekend (March 21-23), the Gamecocks travel to No. 20 Kentucky. Then No. 22 Tennessee, which has experienced a revival this season, journeys to Columbia for the third SEC series of the season.

You get the idea. The SEC is regarded by many analysts as the deepest conference in the country for a reason.

"I hope (being 15-0) makes the guys feel good about themselves. They should have some confidence going," Holbrook said. "That being said, I'm not getting caught up in the fact that we're 15-0. So, we've won the 15 that we've played. That will help us down the road when we've played all 56. It puts us in a better spot. We have a long way to go and we have to get a lot better.

"Obviously, we're not going to go undefeated. We're going to lose our fair share of games. We're not bulletproof. We're not some machine. We're going to have to fight, scratch and claw for every win once we get into league play. We're not going to be able to just show up and win games."

Ole Miss jumped four places in the Baseball America poll after sweeping Arkansas-Little Rock this past weekend in Oxford, although the first win took 10 innings.

Junior OF Auston Bousfield leads the Ole Miss regulars in hitting with a .419 average and is one of seven Rebel players that have started more than half the games played this season to post batting averages above the .300 mark.

Ole Miss' offense is averaging 11 hits and more than six runs per game. Meanwhile, the Rebel pitching staff has limited opposing offenses to two runs per game at this point. Junior RHP Chris Ellis has yet to allow an earned run through four starts and 27.2 innings of work.

In short, two very good baseball teams will collide at Carolina Stadium this weekend. Usually, the team with the best pitching wins the series in this age of college baseball, and both the Gamecocks and Rebels currently possess staff ERAs below 2.00 heading into midweek action.

"Come Friday night, we're 0-0," Holbrook said. "I think our players understand that. Ole Miss is better than 'pretty good'. I feel as good as I could possibly feel."

USC outscored Stetson (11-3 in two games) and Brown (22-0 in three games) by a combined 33-3 last week as the Gamecock pitching staff continued to dominate opposing hitters.

After 15 games, Gamecock hurlers have compiled a 1.20 ERA in 135.0 innings pitched with 97 hits and just 20 runs allowed with 140 strikeouts (an average of more than one per inning) and 30 walks, a gaudy strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.7-to-1.

Ten USC pitchers own ERAs below 1.00, nine have an ERA of 0.00, including bullpen stalwarts Cody Mincey (4 hits and 17 strikeouts in 10.0 IP) and closer Joel Seddon (0 hits and 13 strikeouts in 9.2 IP). The bullpen is working on a streak of 42.0 consecutive scoreless innings dating back to the season-opening game vs. Bucknell.

"We're very fortunate that we have a pitching staff we can rely on," Holbrook said. "You pitch and play defense, you have a chance to win. I like how difficult our team is making it on the opponent to score. I like that trait about our team."

Only one Gamecock pitcher has an ERA above 2.00. Opposing batters are batting a meager .198 against USC this season compared to .320 for the Gamecocks. The Gamecocks have allowed double-digit hits just once.

Three consecutive shutouts by USC against Brown increased its season total to eight, six fewer than the school record of 14 set in 1974. However, five of the shutouts that season came in seven-inning contests. So far this season, all eight whitewashings have come in nine-inning tilts.

Pitching coach Jerry Meyers calls all the pitches and so far he has been flawless. More often than not, USC has thrown the perfect pitch at the right time to get a hitter out.

"Coach Meyers has done an incredible job with our pitchers", Holbrook said. "A lot of (media) wondered if we were going to have any depth in the bullpen losing Adam Westmoreland and Tyler Webb. But what he has done with our young staff and the development of Seddon and Mincey, the depth of our bullpen is one of the strong points of our team."

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Wil Crowe and Jack Wynkoop
LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 5-0
OVERALL RECORD: 15-0 (0-0 SEC)
NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 1 in Baseball America, No. 1 in Collegiate Baseball, No. 1 in USA Today Coaches poll, No. 3 in Perfect Game USA.

LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:
Mar. 4 vs. Stetson, W 7-1
Mar. 5 vs. Stetson, W 4-2
Mar. 7 vs. Brown, W 13-0
Mar. 8 vs. Brown, W 8-0
Mar. 9 vs. Brown, W 1-0

THIS WEEK'S SCHEDULE:
Mar. 11 vs. Furman, 7 p.m.
Mar. 14 vs. Ole Miss, 7 p.m.
Mar. 15 vs. Ole Miss, 4 p.m.
Mar. 16 vs. Ole Miss, 1:30 p.m.
(All Times Eastern)

NOTES:

-- Gamecock fans are encouraged to arrive early to Tuesday night's home game against Furman as the team will honor USC student Martha Childress in a pregame ceremony starting at 6:50 p.m.. First pitch is 7 p.m.

-- USC is batting .320 (162-for-507) as a team with a .409 on-base percentage and a .450 slugging mark. Defensively, the Gamecocks are fielding at a .980 rate with only 11 errors. USC has seven errorless games this year, almost half the games.

-- Marcus Mooney owns a nine-game hitting streak and is tied for the team lead with seven multi-hit games. Nine of Mooney's 10 RBI this year have come with two outs.

-- Jack Wynkoop's eight innings pitched against Brown matched a career-high set as a freshman last season against Kentucky. Wynkoop is 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA in 26.1 innings pitched.

-- Junior catcher Grayson Greiner was named to the Johnny Bench Award Watch List for the top catcher in college baseball last week. Greiner is hitting .373 (19-for-51) with 18 runs scored and 19 RBI, and his .608 slugging percentage is the best mark on the team.

-- Tanner English has recorded a team-high 10 RBI with two outs this season.

-- Connor Bright leads USC with a .418 average (23-for-55) with 14 runs scored, 15 RBI and a team-high eight doubles, as well as a team-best .477 on-base percentage.

-- Three Gamecocks have started all 15 games this year - Bright, Kyle Martin and English.



DM


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