Thursday afternoon, South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook described Max Schrock's chances of playing in the opening game of this weekend's home SEC series against Ole Miss as '50-50 at best' due to an ankle injury suffered by the sophomore on March 5 running through first base in a victory over Stetson.
Turns out Schrock was healthy enough to play in Friday night's 6-4 loss, but just as the designated hitter. He responded by matching his career high with four hits and drove in two of USC's runs with a solo homer in the bottom of the first inning and a run-scoring single in the fourth in the middle of USC's three-run outburst.
Schrock hobbled around the bases every time he got on base, but persevered throughout the contest, drawing raves from Holbrook for his toughness.
"He's a tough nut," Holbrook said. "He just wants to play. He begged his way into (the lineup). He took some ground balls before the game today, but you could easily tell he wasn't going to be able to do that. I told him yesterday that DHing was on the table and I'd consider it. He's one of our best hitters, so if he was able to swing I was going to put him in there."
Schrock's 4-for-5 night raised his average 54 points to .340 (16-for-47). His solo shot was his
"I hope like crazy he can continue to get better," Holbrook said. "He could be even more stiff and sore tomorrow. Right now, he's getting treatment in the training room. Hopefully, he can DH tomorrow, He's a tough nut. You love going into battle with kids like that. It didn't surprise me how he performed."
GUT CHECK TIME: After USC suffered its first loss of the season on Friday night - forcing the Gamecocks into the challenging situation of having to sweep Saturday's doubleheader against a nationally ranked team in order to win the first SEC series of the season - Holbrook contended Saturday would show what his teams is made of.
"You've got to pick ourselves up off the mat in this league," Holbrook said. "We've got 18 innings tomorrow against a really good Ole Miss team and we'll find out a lot about our team tomorrow in the way we respond."
Sophomore Jack Wynkoop, the lone four-game winner on the staff, will make his fifth start of the season for USC in the lidlifter of Saturday's doubleheader. Wynkoop is 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA in 26.1 innings pitched with 24 strikeouts and three walks, an impressive 8-to-1 ratio.
Wynkoop is scheduled to be opposed by Ole Miss sophomore LHP Christian Trent, who is 2-0 with a 3.96 ERA in 25.0 IP. Trent has displayed impeccable control through four starts with 25 strikeouts (1 per inning) compared to just one walk. But he has five HBP, three against UCF on March 1, and yielded five runs on six hits in 4.2 IP in his last start against Arkansas-Little Rock last Saturday.
USC must also tighten up defensively, Holbrook said. Shortstop Peter Mooney committed USC's only error, but Ole Miss clearly outperformed the Gamecocks in the field by making several outstanding plays with the gloves.
"We're going to have to come to the ballpark with a lot of energy and enthusiasm," Holbrook said. "We're going to have to play a solid brand of baseball. They're good. We're going to have to battle, scratch and claw and play a little better defense. We have to do some things better."
-- Because Sunday's forecast calls for a 100 percent chance of rain, Holbrook and Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco agreed to play a doubleheader on Saturday starting at 3 p.m. It will be a separate admission doubleheader, so the ballpark will be cleared between games and Sunday's ticket is good for the second game of the doubleheader. Thus, fans wanting to attend both games must bring Saturday and Sunday's tickets to the ballpark.
-- USC was held without a hit by the Ole Miss bullpen over 3.2 innings. The Gamecocks managed 10 hits and four runs against Rebels starter Chris Ellis, but wasted early scoring opportunities, eventually leaving 11 runners stranded.
-- It wasn't ruled an error, but Grayson Greiner dropped a two-out popup behind home plate in the fifth inning, giving Ole Miss 3B Austin Anderson new life. He promptly deposited a Montgomery pitch over the right-field wall for a solo homer, cutting USC's lead to 4-2.
-- Ole Miss collected just eight hits, but four were for extra bases - two doubles and two homers.
-- Besides Schrock, the only USC player with two or more hits was Tanner English, who went 2-for-3 with a double and one run scored.
-- Connor Bright stroked his third sacrifice fly of the season in the bottom of the fourth to give USC a 4-1 lead. However, Joey Pankake was thrown out trying for third on the play. But not before Schrock crossed home plate, so the run counted.
-- Baseball America debated the question on its college baseball podcast this week whether USC deserved to be ranked No. 1 in the latest Top 25 poll after playing a "soft" non-conference schedule. Aaron Fitt pointed to the weekend sweep over Clemson for justification handing the Gamecocks the top spot. Fitt pointed to Sunday's ninth-inning rally at Clemson as proof of USC's tenacity. "It's embedded within the fabric of that program after those two championship runs," Fitt said. "It's in their DNA now. They always think they can win. They come back from being behind a lot. The Clemson series furthered that mentality."
SEC SCORES (Fri. March 14):
LSU 4, Vanderbilt 2 (LSU leads 1-0)
Georgia 7, Miss. State 1 (UGA leads 1-0)
Alabama 3, Kentucky 0 (Bama leads 1-0)
Auburn 4, Texas A&M 0 (Aub leads 1-0)
Missouri 5, Tennessee 2 (Mizzou leads 1-0)
Florida 2, Arkansas 1 (UF leads 1-0)