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May 2, 2014
Gamecocks prepare to face UGA
NO. 9 SOUTH CAROLINA (34-11, 12-9) at GEORGIA (21-22-1, 7-13-1) at
When: Friday: 7 p.m., Saturday 1 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m.
Notes: South Carolina is ranked No. 7 by the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and the NCBWA, No. 8 by Perfect Game, No. 9 by Baseball America and No. 14 by Collegiate Baseball. South Carolina leads the series with Georgia 61-49, including a three-game sweep vs. the Bulldogs last year at Carolina Stadium with victories of 7-2, 7-1 and 8-3. The two teams split a pair of games back in 2012 with Carolina winning the first game 3-0, Georgia defeating the Gamecocks 6-5 in 10 innings in game two and the third game canceled due to rain. Scott Stricklin is in his first year as the Bulldogs' head coach. Georgia enters on an eight-game losing streak that includes a pair of sweeps at Vanderbilt and Florida the last two weeks.
If South Carolina wants to challenge for a division - much less overall SEC championship, which the league coaches predicted it to win - the time is now.
No. 5 Florida is at Alabama, which should be hot after the series loss in Columbia and on fire playing at home. Should the Tide sweep, Florida would slide to 15-9 with series against Vanderbilt at home and Tennessee on the road remaining. A more likely scenario would be a series win for 'Bama, meaning a 16-8 record for the Gators.
The Gamecocks, on the other hand, are facing the coldest team in the league in Georgia, which has lost eight straight games, including two SEC sweeps in consecutive weekends at Vandy and at Florida. Should the Gamecocks be able to pull off a sweep, they'd be 15-9 in the SEC East and either tied with Florida or a game behind.
In any case, a series win right now is a must because this weekend and next weekend USC is facing the second-worst and worst (Missouri at home) teams in the SEC East while the Gators play the SEC West leader on the road, then host surging Vanderbilt.
If the Gamecocks can gain a game on Florida each weekend, the SEC could come down to the final weekend, though that doesn't bode well for USC since it travels to Nashville while the Gators visit Tennessee. A happier scenario is USC sweeping the next two weekends while Florida loses both series, which would have the Gamecocks at 18-9 and UF at 17-10 heading into the final weekend.
For any of that to happen, however, South Carolina will have to get it done shorthanded and playing with all the magic Byron the Bunny has at his command.
"We're not going to be 100 percent this weekend, but hopefully we'll have a similar team to what we had this past weekend versus Alabama," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "But all in all, our pitchers are healthy; it's a big series for us."
A Gamecock who won't be playing is left fielder Elliott Caldwell, who isn't making the trip and may be gone for the year. Other injured players include second baseman Max Schrock (back) and right fielder Connor Bright (elbow). Both will make the trip but are unlikely to play, especially Schrock, who hasn't seen game action in three weeks. Bright is considered day-to-day and is dealing with pain. He could play if needed, but Holbrook hopes he won't have to and would rather wait until he has a complete bill of health.
Two key players, infielders DC Arendas and Jordan Gore, are battling an upper respiratory virus and have not practiced this week nor will they travel with the team so as to not risk spreading their illness. They're key because Arendas has been filling in for Schrock at second while he's been out and more recently moved to third so Holbrook could move Joey Pankake to left while Caldwell is gone. Gore has more than filled the void at second, starting Sunday and going 3-for-4 in the 9-3 win over Alabama.
WHAT TO WATCH: The big three - Grayson Greiner, Joey Pankake and Kyle Martin. They are the heart of the USC order and while the rest of the lineup has had had a good bit of turnover through injury and performance, it'll be the play of these three that will set the tone and determine how good this team can and will be down the stretch. All of them need to step up in a huge way this weekend in a must-win series.
League games this weekend:
*Kentucky at Tennessee [#-SPSO] Noon ET
*Florida at Alabama 2:05 pm CT
South Carolina NEWS