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April 28, 2014

Look back, look ahead: Burning rubber



Usually, Sunday is funday for the South Carolina baseball team.

Particularly when the third contest of a weekend SEC series represents the rubber game between the Gamecocks and the opponent, and specifically when the game is played at Carolina Stadium.

Sunday's 9-3 dismantling of Alabama in front of a near sellout crowd of 8,074 improved USC's record to 8-3 in home rubber games over the last five seasons.

Burning rubber, indeed.

In three Sunday home rubber games this season (Ole Miss, Florida, Alabama), USC has a 2-1 record and outscored the opponent by a 17-10 margin. Starting in 2010, USC won five straight Sunday home rubber games until falling, 5-4, to Florida in 2012.

As far as Chad Holbrook is concerned, competing on Sunday at home in a must-win situation in order to capture a critical SEC series is what wearing the Gamecock uniform is all about.

"Sometimes I hesitate telling a team that we have to play like our season is on the line because I don't want to tighten them up, but when you play at South Carolina that comes with the territory," Holbrook said Sunday. "If you can't play under pressure, this is the wrong place for you. I told them it would be good practice to simulate (Sunday) like it was Game 3 of the Super Regional."

The intense pressure in what Holbrook described as "our biggest game of the year" didn't affect freshmen Gene Cone (1-for-4, two RBI, one run) or Jordan Gore (3-for-4, one RBI) on Sunday. USC employed four freshmen (40 percent of the lineup) in Sunday's starting lineup - DH Taylor Widener (started all three games vs. Alabama at designated hitter with a 2.2 IP relief appearance on Saturday), starting pitcher Wil Crowe, Cone and Gore.

In fact, Cone had two of the biggest hits in the series. He whacked a key three-run triple in Friday night's 9-3 win and followed up with a clutch two-out, two-run single on Sunday that gave USC a lead it would not relinquish. Cone had a team-high five RBI in the series win over Alabama.

"Gore, Cone and Widener, those guys have the makeup to excel in this league," Holbrook said. "I tell our players all the time that you can't be meek or timid or passive and have success in this league. It will eat you up. Those kids aren't meek. They are far from it. They will fight you every pitch, scratch and claw. They won't get down on themselves if they make a mistake. I love those traits about them. They have brought futures in our program if we can get them into the weight room and Billy (Anderson) puts 15 pounds on them."

Sunday, USC battered four Alabama pitchers for 17 hits in eight at-bats, an average of more than two hits per inning. Every Tide pitcher allowed at least three hits.

The Gamecocks hit .323 (32-for-99) in the Alabama series, the best average for USC in SEC play this season. Sunday's 17-hit outing marked a single-game high against a conference opponent in 2014 and the second-highest total by the Gamecocks all season, just one short of the season-high 18 set against Brown on March 8, 2014.

Beginning with Game 2 at Auburn when the Gamecocks pulled a win out of the fire with a sterling ninth-inning rally (after Cody Mincey had escaped a bases-loaded, no out jam in the bottom of the eight), USC has won six of its last seven games.

"Hopefully, the foundation for the makeup of our teams at South Carolina have been laid by the teams before them," Holbrook said. "If they don't know how we play - and sometimes they come because of how we play - we have been known to be a tough group and tough nuts and not get too frazzled when things don't go our way. They've shown those characteristics and traits through the adversity we've faced.

"Not at full strength, we stood toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country. As big, physical and older as they are, that's why I'm proud of our guys."

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Kyle Martin
LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 4-1
OVERALL RECORD: 34-11 (12-9 SEC)
NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 9 in Baseball America, No. 14 in Collegiate Baseball, No. 8 in Perfect Game USA.

LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:
April 22 vs. Davidson, W 8-0
April 23 vs. USC Upstate, W 6-1
April 25 vs. Alabama, W 9-3
April 26 vs. Alabama, L 2-1
April 27 vs. Alabama, W 9-3

THIS WEEK'S SCHEDULE:
May 2 at Georgia, 7 p.m.
May 3 at Georgia, 1 p.m. (CSS)
May 4 at Georgia, 1 p.m.
(All Times Eastern)

NOTES:

-- Since this is final exam week on the USC campus and a number of key USC players are bothered by nagging injuries, Holbrook said he would give his players Monday and Tuesday off to recharge the batteries before resuming workouts for the upcoming Georgia series on Wednesday.

-- Grayson Greiner is hitting .333 (51-for-153) with a team-high 42 RBI and 29 runs scored in 2014. Greiner, who ranks third in the SEC in RBI, homered in Friday's 9-3 win, his fifth homer of the year. It tied him with Max Schrock for the team lead.

-- Junior OF Tanner English hit .500 (5-for-10) in the Alabama series with two runs scored and two RBI. English is hitting .296 (45-for-152) this season with a team-high 12 stolen bases. His .329 average in SEC games (24-for-73) is second-best on the team.

-- Closer Joel Seddon tallied saves in both wins over Alabama. For the season, he is 2-1 with a 0.58 ERA and SEC-leading 12 saves. He has struck out 39 batters in 31.0 innings and allowed just three runs on 13 hits. Opponents are batting just .126 against him. Seven of Seddon's 12 saves have come in SEC play. He is 12-for-13 in save opportunities.

-- Mincey worked 1.2 scoreless innings of relief to pick up the win on Sunday. He is 4-0 with a 0.67 ERA in 27.0 innings with 37 strikeouts. Opponents are batting a lowly .174 against Mincey.

-- Sophomore infielder DC Arendas hit .444 (4-for-9) in the Alabama series and scored a team-best five runs.

-- Martin had a pair of four-hit games this week. Martin had four hits in the 6-1 win over USC Upstate and went 4-for-5 with a run scored and two RBI in Sunday's 9-3 win. Martin leads the Gamecocks with a .350 average (62-for-177) and 25 RBI. Martin averages 1.38 hits per game, third-best in the SEC, and is ninth in the SEC in batting average.

HITTING LEADERS:
Batting Average: Kyle Martin (.350)
At-bats: Kyle Martin (177)
Runs: Joey Pankake (39)
Hits: Kyle Martin (62)
Doubles: Connor Bright (10)
Triples: Marcus Mooney and Tanner English (1)
Home Runs: Max Schrock and Grayson Greiner (5)
RBI: Grayson Greiner (42)
Total Bases: Kyle Martin (82)
Slugging Pct: Grayson Greiner (.490)
Walks: Four tied with 19
On-Base Pct: Kyle Martin (.404)
Stolen Bases: Tanner English (12).

SEC EAST STANDINGS: Florida 15-6, USC 12-9, Vanderbilt 11-10, Kentucky 9-12, Tennessee 8-13, Georgia 7-13-1, Missouri 6-15.

OVERALL SEC STANDINGS:
1. Florida 15-6
2. Alabama 13-8 (Won series vs. Ole Miss)
3. Ole Miss 13-8
4. LSU 12-8-1
5. South Carolina 12-9
6. Mississippi State 11-10 (Won series vs. Vanderbilt)
7. Vanderbilt 11-10
8. Arkansas 10-11, Texas A&M 10-11
10. Auburn 9-12, Kentucky 9-12
12. Tennessee 8-13
***************************************
13. Georgia 7-13-1
14. Missouri 6-15.

Note: 12 teams qualify for SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. from May 20-25



DM


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