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April 25, 2014
Series preview: Alabama
No. 8 ALABAMA (28-13, 12-6) at NO. 11 SOUTH CAROLINA (32-10, 10-8)
When: Friday: 7 p.m., Saturday 2 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m.
Notes: South Carolina is ranked No. 8 by the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and the NCBWA, No. 10 by Perfect Game, No. 11 by Baseball America and No. 19 by Collegiate Baseball. Alabama is ranked No. 8 by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and Perfect Game as well as No. 17 by the NCBWA and No. 18 by the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll … South Carolina leads the series with Alabama 29-25, including eight wins in the last 10 contests played between the two schools. Both teams did not meet last year and last met two years ago with the Gamecocks sweeping the Crimson Tide at Carolina Stadium … Alabama under the direction of head coach Mitch Gaspard is tied for the SEC lead heading into the weekend series. The Crimson Tide have won SEC series this year against Kentucky, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Auburn and Tennessee
While the Gamecocks certainly aren't bringing a knife to a gun fight tonight when they face SEC leader No. 8 Alabama, they certainly will be doing so without all the bullets in their holster.
Gone is sophomore second baseman Max Schrock, potentially for the year. On the shelf for this series, possibly the next is Vince Fiori with a strained lat muscle. Starting left fielder Elliott Caldwell is "iffy" for the weekend, Connor Bright is day-to-day as he recovers from an elbow injury but should contribute in some form and All-American catcher Grayson Greiner is fresh off a concussion scare.
As the Gamecocks have proven over the past few seasons, a program like South Carolina is expected to win anyway, and that's just the attitude the team and coaching staff is taking.
"We don't look at ourselves as shorthanded anymore, because (Gene) Cone has got his cracks (at the plate)," USC head coach Chad Holbrook said. "(Jordan) Gore has been in some big situations. So if they're in there, that's our team.
"We're going to try like heck not to miss a beat no matter who's in there."
The results - a 32-10 record, the No. 5 RPI in the country and a four-game winning streak - speak for themselves.
"If you factor in the fact that we've had our fair share of adversity and kind of had to manage some things and suffer through a little bit of a losing streak but didn't let it spiral out of control, the guys kept a good attitude, they kept working every day in practice and didn't lose sight that winning around here is important," Holbrook said. "They felt a little heat, they felt a little pressure. That goes with the territory of playing at South Carolina.
"But after that first win at Auburn, I could sense some relief, and I think we've relaxed and played some pretty good baseball since then."
The Gamecocks will have to play their best baseball to have a shot at beating an Alabama team that has so far been the class of the league.
"Speaking with a lot of coaches around the league, the feedback I get is they're the most talented team in the league," Holbrook said of the Crimson Tide. "(Spencer) Turnbull, the kid pitching (tonight), is electric, he's got great stuff. He's a first round-type, Friday night guy in this league. We couldn't manage a hit against him his freshman year here in 2012.
"They're terrific defensively, too. They're older. They have some dynamic players all over the field. That being said it's two evenly matched teams in many ways if you look at the statistics. They're hitting .283, we're hitting .283. Very, very similar ERAs, very, very similar fielding percentages.
"They have a few more home runs than we do, and that I think will be a key to the series, trying to keep the ball in the ballpark, because they have some guys that can hit it out. If we manage to minimize their extra-base hits, I think that'll be a big factor in whether we have success or not."
Holbrook knows that while the series is crucial to the SEC race and national seeding, it isn't the be-all, end-all of the year.
"I don't think if we lose it we're out of the national seed, I don't think if we win we solidify a national seed," Holbrook said. "We'll take it one game at a time.
"All the games are important. This can create some momentum beating a really good team, but it's not going to make or break us. It's not going to pencil us in one way or the other when it comes to national seed hosting or not."
One big reason for that is the fact that the SEC itself is so deep and talented.
"We're two games out of first, and we're probably two to three games out of last," Holbrook said. "We're all in this thing. It's tight. It magnifies the importance of each game. Depth is what separates our league from other leagues.
"(Alabama is) in the hunt to host a regional and be a national seed and all those things. They're that good. There's no weakness in their team. They're a terrific team. We've got our hands full."
WHAT TO WATCH: For the third game in a row, it's Gene Cone. If Bright returns to the lineup tonight, Cone, a freshman, will move to left field until Caldwell returns. Holbrook has raved about Cone's competitiveness, his lack of awe at his surroundings and his understanding that each pitch of an at-bat is important. He loves Cone's approach and said Tuesday after the win over USC Upstate that Cone is in the game because he deserves to be, not because others are injured. If he can continue to play like he did Tuesday - a career-high three hits while batting in the No. 2 hole - he'll give Holbrook and the coaching staff some serious thinking to do about Caldwell when he does get healthy.
League games this weekend:
Saturday, April 26
Sunday, April 27
South Carolina NEWS