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May 16, 2014

USC, Vandy play rubber game Saturday



20140516 - Vanderbilt Post-game Coach Holbrook - PFC


NASHVILLE -- South Carolina saved the most important regular season game for last.

Falling behind by four runs in the first inning, USC couldn't catch up to Vanderbilt in a 9-3 loss on Friday night at Hawkins Field, a setback that sets the stage for Saturday's critically important rubber game (3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network), between the long time SEC East rivals.

Not only is the winner of the contest guaranteed to finish second in the division behind Florida, which clinched the overall conference regular season title by beating Tennessee in Knoxville, but the loser faces a long climb to a national seed and perhaps a single elimination game Tuesday in Hoover on the first day of the SEC Tournament.

But the winner is guaranteed nothing beyond the second place finish in the SEC East, as well.

USC (41-14 overall) and Vanderbilt are tied for fifth in the SEC with identical 17-12 conference marks, one game behind Mississippi State (18-12) and percentage points behind LSU (16-11-1). Florida (21-8) and Ole Miss (19-10) clinched the top two seeds in the conference tournament by virtue of victories on Friday night.

Thus, if Mississippi State (at Alabama) and LSU (at Auburn) both win on Saturday, neither the Gamecocks nor the Commodores will be able to attain a top four seed in the SEC Tournament, dropping both teams into the single elimination stage.

Because so many scenarios are possible, all we know right now is the loser of Saturday's USC-Vanderbilt single game showdown has no chance at a bye in the SEC Tournament.

"We have a lot on the line tomorrow, so we're excited about playing," Holbrook said. "It's one regular season game, but it's an important one. We'll have fun playing. Our players come to South Carolina and I'm sure their guys go to Vanderbilt to play in games like this. We'll have a lot of energy, but we're going to have to play very well against another good pitcher.

"We've had a great regular season regardless of what happens with everything that has happened to our players (injuries, etc.) and our team."

Freshman Wil Crowe (6-3, 2.97 ERA in 75.2 IP) makes his 14th start of the season for the Gamecocks on Saturday in the final regular season game. He will be opposed by Vanderbilt sophomore RHP Tyler Ferguson (7-3, 2.66 ERA in 67.2 IP).

"We'll need a good start out of Wil Crowe (Saturday) to try to keep it close," said Holbrook, who discounted talk the loser of Saturday's game is eliminated from national seed consideration.

"The media speculates that's the case, but there are games to be played next week too," Holbrook continued. "It's one game. It's an important game, but all we're trying to do (Saturday) is win a series. Nothing more, nothing less. What comes after that game is up to somebody else, not us. We can play our rear ends off tomorrow and there is no guarantee we're going to win because we're playing a great opponent."

USC faces the must-win predicament in order to have a shot at a top four seed in the SEC Tourney after falling behind 4-0 in the bottom of the first on Friday night on three RBI singles off USC starter Jack Wynkoop.

The Gamecocks closed the gap to 4-1 in the top of the second when Patrick Harrington drew a bases loaded walk, the last of three straight walks issued by Vanderbilt starter Carson Fulmer, who entered the game with a 0.98 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 55.0 innings pitched.

However, USC left the bases loaded in the inning, three of the 12 runners left stranded by the Gamecocks. USC added another run in the top of the fifth on a fielder's groundout by Grayson Greiner, but Vanderbilt put the game out of reach with four runs in the bottom half of the inning.

"We had our chances against Fulmer," Holbrook said. "I have no problem with the way we competed against a really good pitcher. I didn't get a chance to play or coach against Roger Clemens, but I imagine that was close to what he used to do as far as a stuff standpoint.

"We battled and competed and had a good approach against him, but we couldn't get the big hit when the bases were loaded. We were going to have to win that game 3-2 or 4-3. Trying to hit 94 to 96 miles per hour is very difficult. We had a good plan against him."

Cleanup hitter Zander Wiel whacked a two-run homer into the left field stands off Wynkoop before Rhett Wiseman greeted reliever Taylor Widener with a RBI triple to right to plate the third run of the inning.

"That (the HR) took a lot of the wind out of our sails," Holbrook said. "Jack made a mistake to a big, strong kid and he hit it out of the park."

Wynkoop allowed seven runs and nine hits in 4.2 innings pitched, his shortest starting stint since lasting just 1.1 innings at Tennessee on March 29.

"We didn't get the pitching performance we needed, but Jack has been very consistent all year and I'm sure he will bounce back next time," Holbrook said.

Moment later, an infield single scored Wiseman and Vanderbilt had enough runs to game the game on ice. Both teams scored in the sixth to complete the scoring.

USC opened the top of the ninth with consecutive singles, but popup and 1-6-3 double play ended the game.

NOTES:

-- Holbrook said Max Schrock, Connor Bright and Elliott Caldwell are unlikely to play again until the NCAA Tournament, giving them almost two weeks to get healthy. "My plan right now to get those guys ready for the NCAA Tournament", Holbrook said. "We've been trying to piecemeal it together and Max has been hurt, but I just want to keep them all some rest and see if we can get them back by NCAA Tourney time. If they happen to come back in Hoover, great, but that's not my focus right now. We have to get those guys healthy. Max has given us everything he's got but when he does that he can't move the next day."

-- In the wake of Hunter Privette hurling the final 2.2 innings on Friday night, Holbrook contended everybody on the pitching staff except for Game 1 and 2 starters Jordan Montgomery and Jack Wynkoop are 'fresh and ready' and available for Game 3. "We'll use everybody we can to win (Saturday)," Holbrook said.

SEC SCORES (Fri. May 16)
Vanderbilt 9, USC 3
Florida 4, Tennessee 2
Kentucky 10, Georgia 0
Arkansas 4, Missouri 0
Miss. State 1, Alabama 0
LSU 11, Auburn 3
Ole Miss 4, Texas A&M 2

SEC EAST STANDINGS: Florida 21-8, USC 17-12, Vanderbilt 17-12, Kentucky 14-15, Tennessee 11-18, Georgia 10-18-1, Missouri 6-23.

OVERALL SEC LADDER:
1. Florida 21-8 (Clinched No. 1 seed)
2. Ole Miss 19-10 (Clinched No. 2 seed)
3. Mississippi State 18-11
4. LSU 16-11-1 (.592)
5. USC 17-12, Vanderbilt 17-12 (.586)
7. Arkansas 15-14
8. Alabama 14-14
9. Kentucky 14-15
10. Texas A&M 13-16
11. Tennessee 11-18
12. Georgia 10-18-1
***************************************
13. Auburn 10-19
14. Missouri 6-23*

* Eliminated from SEC Tournament consideration.

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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