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May 9, 2014

USC faces Mizzou in final home series

MISSOURI (20-27, 6-18) at NO. 17 SOUTH CAROLINA (36-13, 13-11)
When: Friday 7 p.m., Saturday 3:15 p.m., Sunday 1:30 p.m.
Where: Carolina Stadium
Tickets: Available at the box office
TV: Friday: SportSouth. Saturday: SportSouth. Sunday: None.
Series: South Carolina leads 2-1
Last meeting: Missouri won 4-0 in Columbia, MO on March 16, 2013.
Probable starting pitchers:
South Carolina
Friday: Jr. LHP Jordan Montgomery (6-4, 3.33 ERA, 73.0 IP, 69 H, 23 BB, 69 K)
Saturday: So. LHP Jack Wynkoop (6-3, 2.21 ERA, 73.1 IP, 70 H, 9 BB, 52 K)
Sunday: Fr. RHP Wil Crowe (6-3, 3.15 ERA, 68.2 IP, 64 H, 18 BB, 42 K)
Friday: Jr. RHP Brett Graves (3-4, 3.25 ERA, 80.1 IP, 12 BB, 55 K)
Saturday: TBA
Sunday: TBA

With seven regular season games remaining, the final push towards a possible national seed begins now for South Carolina.

Last-place Missouri stands in the way, along with a crucial trip to Vanderbilt next week. The Gamecocks are No. 11 in the NCAA's Official RPI, tantalizingly close to one of the coveted top eight spots.

Missouri is last in the SEC in team batting (.249), 12th in team ERA (3.94) and has lost nine straight conference games. Pushover? Chad Holbrook views the Tigers as just another dangerous league opponent requiring USC's full attention in the final home series on the 2014 schedule.

"I can't put the cart before the horse," Holbrook said. "We're trying to win Friday night. We'll let all that dust about post-season play settle after game 56. That's the way we have to approach it. I'm glad we're in the conversation for some things about the post-season with regards to hosting, but we can play ourselves out of it if we're not careful. Winning Friday night is going to be 100 percent of our focus and attention."

Last weekend, Missouri was swept at home by Vanderbilt, but lost the final two games by scores of 5-1 and 3-1. During the ongoing nine-game SEC losing streak that has dropped Missouri to the bottom of the league ladder, the Tigers have lost four games by two runs or less. Earlier this season, they won two of three games at Kentucky and Auburn.

"They have arms that keep them in every game if you look at their scores," Holbrook said. "They have a number of arms that are high draft picks. There are going to be some low scoring games and the games are going to be tight. Hopefully, we can build on the momentum we created (Wednesday) night (15-1 win over Wofford). But their arms and the way they play is going to create some challenges for us."

USC has scored a total of nine runs in two of the last three SEC series (nine at Auburn and Georgia), so the Gamecocks' offense has struggled to string together hits against conference pitching. USC batted .189 (18-for-95) in last weekend's series loss at Georgia.

"We haven't been an incredibly efficient offensive team," Holbrook said. "Runs have been hard to come by. Because of who (Missouri) they have on the mound, it's going to make it very difficult. There might be some 3-2, 2-1 type of games. They have some good arms and are scrappy at the plate. They're a little like we are. Hopefully, being at home will help us and we can get a big series win."

Injuries to Missouri's starting pitchers have shuffled this weekend's rotation as the Tigers have yet to announce starters for Saturday and Sunday's contests at Carolina Stadium. Junior RHP Brett Graves (3-4, 3.25 ERA in 80.1 IP, 55 K, 12 BB) will oppose USC's Jordan Montgomery tonight.

Saturday starter John Miles suffered an injury early in his outing last week at Vanderbilt.


-- Holbrook on Max Schrock's availability after he started Wednesday's win over Wofford: "I do hope he's in there all weekend long. It's a different feel in our dugout when he's in there. Our players know how talented the kid is. He's been banged up all year. But when he's 100 percent and healthy, we haven't lost many games. Maybe Max was the shot in the arm that we needed."

-- Holbrook was less optimistic about injured outfielder Connor Bright: "Connor won't be available this weekend barring a miracle. I don't even think he will be active. He has a strained flexor tendon in his elbow that flared up a little bit over the last week. But he's doing rehab. We hope to get him back before the end of the regular season, maybe some point next week. He's not far off, but he's not quite ready."

-- Holbrook said there was "a chance" OF Elliott Caldwell could return this season, but any comeback would happen in the post-season. However, the question at that point would be whether he was ready to play at a high level. "It will be difficult for him to get back, but we're not ruling him out yet," Holbrook said.

-- Welcome to the SEC: Since USC is ranked No. 17 in the Baseball America poll, Missouri has faced a nationally ranked opponent in eight of nine SEC series this season.

-- Current SEC East standings after Florida's 1-0 victory over Vanderbilt Thursday night: Florida 19-6, Vanderbilt 14-11, USC 13-11, Tennessee 10-14, Kentucky 10-14, Georgia 9-14-1, Missouri 6-18.

1. Florida 19-6
2. Ole Miss 15-9
3. Mississippi State 14-10
4. Vanderbilt 14-11
5. LSU 13-10-1
6. South Carolina 13-11 (Won series vs. Alabama)
7. Alabama 13-11
8. Texas A&M 12-12
9. Arkansas 11-13
10. Tennessee 10-14 (Won series vs. Kentucky)
11. Kentucky 10-14
12. Georgia 9-14-1
13. Auburn 9-15
14. Missouri 6-18.

Note: 12 teams qualify for SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., from May 20-25. Top four teams earn first-round byes


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