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April 3, 2014
Series preview: Arkansas
NO. 2 SOUTH CAROLINA (25-3, 6-3) at ARKANSAS (18-10, 4-5)
When: Thursday: 8 p.m., Friday 7:35 p.m., Saturday 7 p.m.
Notes: Three Gamecock players have started all 28 games this year, junior right fielder Connor Bright, junior first baseman Kyle Martin and junior center fielder Tanner English … South Carolina is hitting .301 (289-for-961) as a team with a .375 on-base percentage and a .416 slugging percentage. All three of those marks are among SEC leaders. The pitching staff leads the league with a 1.69 ERA. The Gamecocks have 238 strikeouts in 256.0 innings. Opponents are hitting .205 against the Gamecocks. South Carolina has fielded .977 as a team with only 24 errors.
You can talk them up all you like, but this is not the Arkansas of old or even the Arkansas of, say, last year that came into Columbia and swept the Gamecocks by a combined score of 24-8.
Nope. This Razorbacks team is struggling, and there's no way around it. Losers of three of their last five, Arkansas boasts the best pitching staff in the SEC not named USC or Vanderbilt but is saddled with the worst-hitting team in the league, batting just .259 and with a league-low 220 hits.
You won't get USC coach Chad Holbrook to see a team that's struggling, however. Not when his own No. 2 Gamecocks struggled themselves to score against an 8-15 Appalachian State squad on Tuesday.
"We're going to have a hard time scoring," said Holbrook, whose team is 25-3 halfway through the regular season, the best record at this point in the year since 2006 and equal to the team's record in 2000 when it finished the regular season with a 50-6 record. "Their pitching staff is as good as we will have faced. Their numbers are incredible, starting with (Jalen) Beeks, (Trey) Killian and (Chris) Oliver.
"They have the best stuff we'll see, right there with Vanderbilt. Mid 90s, lefties, righties, power sliders, power breaking balls, they can overpower you. We just have to do the best that we can, try to manufacture a free runs and our pitchers are going to have to do what they've been doing as well to keep us in the game."
Holbrook said with so many players on the team who remember last year's embarrassing home sweep, they won't take Arkansas lightly.
"It's a lot similar to what we faced when we faced Arkansas last year," Holbrook said of the Razorbacks having their backs against the wall. "They kind of overpowered and overmatched us here last year. I think our guys understand that and they know what they're up against."
One note of interest is that Thursday's game will be a showcase for college baseball on ESPNU.
"It's neat," Holbrook said. "I think they're excited about playing on national TV Thursday night.
"It's a heck of a challenge, and it's going to be a heck of a challenge to score. Their coaching staff does a terrific job and they have a terrific pitching staff."
Injury outlook: Max Schrock (ankle) and Grayson Greiner (thumb) are both still recovering and not 100 percent but will play.
WHAT TO WATCH: Chad Holbrook. Known as a player's coach who trusts his hitters to move runners around rather than micromanage a game, Holbrook said he may take a different approach this weekend on the road against a strong pitching staff. Look for Holbrook to try for more stolen bases and bunt more often than he has so far this season as he seeks to optimize his scoring opportunities.
"I may manage a little bit different than I've done," Holbrook said. "I let the kids play. I don't try to win the game for them.
"I don't do much hitting and running, we don't do much sac bunting, we don't do much stealing. We're going to have to manufacture some against those guys. We may have to use the sac bunt a little bit more, we may have to take more pitches.
"They're so good that you have to get the runner in scoring position and you have to take advantage of the opportunity. To get a runner in scoring position you might have to take advantage of a walk, you might have to take some 2-0, 3-1 pitches to get a walk and gt a runner on base, advance on a ball in the dirt and try to win 2-1, 3-2. I have a feeling it's going to be very difficult to score."
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