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April 16, 2014

USC's struggles continue in loss to The Citadel



CHARLESTON, S.C. It's been a rough few days for South Carolina's baseball team.

The 11th-ranked Gamecocks lost 10-8 to The Citadel after a three-hour, 30-minute-long contest at Joe Riley Park Wednesday night. The loss is USC's fourth in five days.

USC (28-9) gave up a four-run third inning to the Bulldogs and found itself playing catch-up the rest of the way. The Gamecocks - playing without Joey Pankake (hamstring), Connor Bright (elbow), Marcus Mooney (concussion) or Max Schrock (left the game with a back injury) - managed to pull within one run of The Citadel (15-23) in the fifth and sixth innings.

But the Bulldogs plated two runs in the bottom of the fifth and seventh innings to push the game back out of reach.

"We didn't make enough good plays to win," said DC Arendas, who went 1-1 with a home run and three walks Wednesday. "We pieced together some good at-bats, had some innings where we scored some runs, but we just came up short there at the end."

The Gamecocks had a productive night offensively, racking up seven hits and 10 walks. But USC also committed three errors, left 11 runners on base and issued eight walks of their own, mistakes USC head coach Chad Holbrook would lament after the game.

"We've just got to play better," said Holbrook. "When you're shorthanded and you don't have some of your guys, you've got to play really crisp, clean baseball, limit free-90s, play good defense, no baserunning mistakes, all those things. And we didn't do that tonight."

Freshman right-hander Matt Vogel (0-1) suffered the loss in his first college start, giving up five runs on three hits and two walks in 2 1/3 innings pitched.

The night marks USC's first four-game losing streak since 2009, when it combined a loss to Clemson with a three-game sweep at Florida.

Ranked No. 1 in the nation just weeks ago, the Gamecocks have fallen into a funk. They know it as well as anyone.

"It's very difficult; I'm certainly very concerned," said Holbrook. "We're 28-9. It ain't the end of the world, but I'll be the first to say I think some of our guys' confidence is shaken a little bit, and I don't know if I have the answer."

USC's struggles began last Saturday against Florida, when the Gamecocks blew a three-run lead in the eighth inning and eventually lost by a run in the 13th. The Gamecocks dropped a sloppy rubber match against the Gators 6-5 the next day, then fell 4-1 to Charleston Southern at Carolina Stadium Tuesday night.

A month after their 16-0 start to the season, the Gamecocks are now just clamoring to get back into the win column.

"We need a win. We need that feel-good feeling again," Holbrook said, adding that he had no problem with his players' effort Wednesday night.

"We're a big inning away or a big win from getting out of it," Holbrook said. "You just got to try to not let it steamroll down hill and make four in a row become eight or nine."

First baseman Kyle Martin, who went 2-4 with two RBI, said USC needs to get healthy soon, but that they can't use their injuries as an excuse.

"Everybody's got to come out and perform no matter what," Martin said. "We've just been in a little bit of a rut, and we'll come back and get out of it soon."

Arendas said he thinks some of the younger players who have been stepping in for USC's injured starters are getting more comfortable each game, but that the whole team has got to show some mental toughness in the meantime.

"We know we've got to get some things going," Arendas said. "We've got to score some runs for our pitchers and pick those guys up."

And Holbrook said he's counting on the veterans, some who he said made mistakes in Wednesday night's loss, to help the team get back in its rhythm.

"Some of our guys that have been around the block have got to rally our troops," Holbrook said. "They've got to lead us. I don't know if there's a perfect formula. It's a little bit frustrating, but we're going to try as best as we can to get us out of this rut we're in."

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