South Carolina's regular season reached the halfway point with Saturday's 6-3 victory over Texas A&M at Carolina Stadium that secured a series sweep.
Four Gamecock pitchers held Texas A&M to eight singles, while five of USC's seven hits went for extra bases. After 28 games and with three conference series in the books, USC's record stands at 22-6, two games ahead of last season's pace, when it reached the national championship series.
"If you had asked me before the season, whether after 28 games would I have signed up for 22-6, I wouldn't have thought twice," coach Chad Holbrook said. "But we still have a lot of work to do. We still have to get better. We're getting a little more healthy as each day passes."
Now the Gamecocks face two straight conference series on the road at Tennessee and Florida followed by weekend series against Kentucky (home), LSU (road) and Vanderbilt (home).
"You just try to win each series," Holbrook said. "In this league, you don't think about sweeping because it rarely happens. You just try to win the series. When you get the series in the first two days, you try to pump your players up and say, 'This isn't enough, we have to get another one.' You get 30 opportunities and I try to get our guys to see them individually. This one today was just as important as Thursday and Friday. 'Win the next game' is our motto around here."
The sweep over Texas A&M puts USC into the thick of the SEC East race. The Gamecocks could be tied with Kentucky for second in the division if Georgia beats the Wildcats on Sunday.
"Coach (Ray) Tanner had a quote he always told the guys: 'You only go away if you choose to do so,'" Holbrook said. "In other words, you have to have the strongest will to win in this league. If you do, you can keep your head above water. Honestly, that's what you try to do in this league, but it's so difficult. You try to stay on the positive end of a .500 record. When you have an opportunity to sweep a series, you have to make the most of it."
At the halfway point, LB Dantzler is leading the Gamecocks in the three triple crown categories with a .357 batting average, nine homers (two on Saturday) and 32 RBIs. He has started every game this season.
"He's been the threat in the middle of our lineup that we've needed," Holbrook said. "He has given us some good at-bats. I still get on him about his strikeouts because he's a gifted hitter. We want him to be aggressive, This is a ballpark made for left-handed hitters with some pop. The wind usually pushes the ball to right field. That being said, those were two big swings of the bat today. He's having a big-time year for us."
WONDERFUL WESTMORELAND: This weekend's sweep over Texas A&M is one that Adam Westmoreland won't likely forget. The left-hander from Brookland-Cayce High School limited the Aggies to three hits and one run with three strikeouts in 4.2 innings on Saturday, culminating a fabulous weekend for the southpaw once known as a "Hefty Lefty."
In two appearances (Thursday and Saturday) encompassing 8.1 innings and 124 pitches, Westmoreland limited Texas A&M to one run on six hits while striking out 10 and walking one, improving his record to 3-0 in the process. His season ERA is a microscopic 0.96 in 10 appearances, totaling 28 innings. He has allowed just 20 hits with 29 strikeouts and three walks.
"I felt pretty good considering I threw 58 pitches on Thursday," Westmoreland said. "I'm a bigger guy, so as long as I stay on top of my cardio and stay in shape, I should be OK. I don't feel like I'll wear down. I'm just trying to throw more strikes and get ahead of hitters. Right now, everything feels good."
Even though Westmoreland has been sensational in the bullpen in the first half of the season, Holbrook said that USC wouldn't hesitate to turn Westmoreland into a starter, if necessary. Westmoreland has 19 career starts.
"One of the things I'm most proud of this year is the performance of Adam Westmoreland," Holbrook said. "He deserved something good to happen to him with what he's been through. He's been special. Coach (Jerry) Meyers and I may argue on that, but I would have no problems starting Adam Westmoreland in a game. But, that being said, he helped us win two games this weekend. When you start, you only help to win one. We'll keep that in the thoughts."
LIFE IN THE SEC: Six days ago, USC was mourning the first home sweep in 14 years at the hands of pitching-rich Arkansas. Today, it's celebrating a sweep over Texas A&M. Holbrook on the 180- degree turn in emotions? That's life in the SEC.
"What a difference six days makes," Holbrook said. "I'm proud of our players. They picked themselves up off the mat. It's what we talked about all week. We beat a really good team. Each game could have gone either way. This weekend, we got the breaks. Last weekend, maybe we didn't."
The entirely different results on back-to-back weekends shows how unforgiving the SEC can be. Texas A&M came into the series with a 5-1 record and was coming off a series win at Ole Miss.
"Coach Tanner said all the time that this league gives and this league takes away," Holbrook said. "You try to keep an even keel as you go through these 30 wars of what is SEC baseball. Our kids didn't get too down after last weekend. They played pretty solid baseball for the most part."
* Holbrook said that left-hander Jordan Montgomery, sidelined for the last four weeks with an elbow stress reaction, will throw another bullpen session on Monday. USC is eyeing a possible return for the Sumter native next week at Tennessee in the series finale. Holbrook described Montgomery's most recent bullpen work on Friday as "very, very encouraging." Holbrook, though, said that USC won't rush Montgomery back, so any sign of discomfort and soreness will delay his return until perhaps the following weekend at Florida. "When Jordan is ready to go, we're going to pop him in there," Holbrook said. "My first thought is, start (him), because that's what he is used to doing. But it could be a two-inning stint. We have to let some things unfold this week in regards to who we use Tuesday and Wednesday." The role of Colby Holmes this week could determine, in part, whether Montgomery is used next week in Knoxville.
* Holbrook said this will be his first Easter Sunday off since he began coaching 20 years ago.
* USC hosts Charleston Southern at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and travels to Greenville on Wednesday to face Furman at Fluor Field.
Team SEC Overall
Vanderbilt 7-1 24-4
Kentucky 5-3 19-6
South Carolina 5-4 22-6
Tennessee 3-5 13-12
Florida 3-5 12-16
Missouri 2-6 8-14
Georgia 1-7 9-18
Alabama 7-2 18-12
LSU 7-1 25-2
Arkansas 5-3 19-8
Texas A&M 5-4 18-11
Ole Miss 4-4 22-5
Mississippi State 3-5 23-7
Auburn 1-8 16-12
South Carolina 6, Texas A&M 3 (USC wins 3-0)
Alabama 2, Auburn 0 (Alabama wins 2-1)
Mississippi State 4, Arkansas 1 (Tied 1-1)
Florida 7, Ole Miss 0 (Tied 1-1)
Georgia 7, Kentucky 6 (Tied 1-1)
LSU 8, Missouri 0 (LSU leads 2-0)
Vanderbilt 8, Tennessee 3 (Vandy leads 2-0)
Mississippi State at Arkansas
Ole Miss at Florida
Georgia at Kentucky
LSU at Missouri
Tennessee at Vanderbilt