Forced to rely on a makeshift lineup throughout the weekend at Georgia, South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook and his players squarely face a must-sweep situation against lowly Missouri this upcoming weekend at Carolina Stadium.
The Tigers, still building their baseball program after joining the SEC in 2013, are entrenched in last place in the league standings and, barring a minor miracle, will be one of the two conference teams staying at home when the annual SEC Tournament gets underway on May 20 in Hoover, Ala.
A sweep over Missouri should propel USC a notch or two up the SEC ladder. The Gamecocks currently sit in sixth spot with a 13-11 record. However, the two schools sandwiching them in the standings (LSU and Alabama) matchup this weekend in Baton Rouge in what should be a fiercely competitive series at Alex Box Stadium.
Moreover, fourth-place Vanderbilt must travel to Gainesville to face Florida, which has a comfortable three-game lead atop the SEC standings with six conference games remaining.
If USC sweeps Missouri and the Gators win all three games over Vanderbilt in front of their home fans, the Gamecocks would hold a two-game lead over the Commodores heading into the final regular season series between USC and Vanderbilt in Nashville from May 15-17.
In that case, USC would need to win just one game over the Commodores to 1) clinch second place in the SEC East behind Florida; 2) perhaps give them a top four seed (and the accompanying first round bye) for the SEC Tournament and 3) keep them in contention for hosting an NCAA Regional on May 30-June 2.
In order to accomplish those goals, though, USC's bats must awaken. The Gamecocks collected just 18 hits in the disappointing Georgia series, nine in Saturday's 5-2 victory at Foley Field in Athens. USC batted just .153 (9-for-59) in losses on Friday and Sunday with just two of the hits going for extra bases.
Blame injuries? Well, the top six hitters in USC's Sunday lineup, all of whom have been regular contributors this season, combined to hit 1-for-19 (.053) with six strikeouts and five LOB against three Georgia pitchers. Five of USC's six hits originated from the bottom third of the batting order.
"We're just going to focus on the next game and who we can put out there," Holbrook said after Sunday's loss. "Everybody makes a big deal of the injury situation, and we have some guys over there sitting on the bench that we'd like to have in there, but the bottom line is our regular guys that are every-day players (didn't hit).
"We didn't lose the game because of the guys that were playing in place of our injured guys. When we don't have a full team out there, the top of our lineup has to produce and today they didn't."
USC, 9-10 since winning the series opener at Arkansas on April 4, attempts to get back on the winning track on Wednesday night with a non-conference contest against Wofford at Carolina Stadium.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Grayson Greiner
LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 1-2
OVERALL RECORD: 35-13 (13-11 SEC)
NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 17 in Baseball America, No. 19 in Collegiate Baseball, No. 14 in Perfect Game USA.
LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:
May 2 at Georgia, L 1-3
May 3 at Georgia, W 5-2
May 4 at Georgia, L 5-3
THIS WEEK'S SCHEDULE:
May 7 vs. Wofford, 7 p.m.
May 9 vs. Missouri, 7 p.m. (SportSouth)
May 10 vs. Missouri, 3:15 p.m. (FSN)
May 11 vs. Missouri, 1:30 p.m.
(All Times Eastern)
-- Freshmen Jordan Gore and Gene Cone started all three games of the Georgia series at second base and left field, respectively. In addition, Patrick Harrington started all three games in right field.
-- Max Schrock, Connor Bright and Elliott Caldwell didn't play in the series.
-- Grayson Greiner hit .444 (4-for-9) with a pair of homers, four RBI and three runs scored against Georgia. He was 2-for-3 with a solo homer in Friday's 3-1 loss and followed up by going 1-for-2 with a two-run homer and three walks in the 5-2 victory on Saturday over the Bulldogs. Greiner leads the Gamecocks in hitting with a .340 average (55-for-162) as well as homers (7) and RBI (46), positioning him to win the team triple crown.
-- LHP Jack Wynkoop improved to 6-3 by hurling six effective innings on Saturday. He has a 2.21 ERA in a team-high 73.1 innings pitched with 52 strikeouts and nine strikeouts.
-- Harrington tallied a key RBI-single in the 5-2 win at Georgia on Saturday before recording the first two-hit game of his career, including a RBI-double, on Sunday.
-- Closer Joel Seddon registered his SEC-leading 13th save in Saturday's win over Georgia after hurling a scoreless inning of relief on Friday. Seddon is 2-1 with a 0.56 ERA in 21 relief appearances with 40 strikeouts and seven walks in 32.1 innings. He has allowed just 15 hits as opponents are batting a lowly .138 against the St. Clair, MI, native.
-- Freshman RHP Taylor Widener is 3-0 with a 0.92 ERA in 16 appearances this season. He has 27 strikeouts in 29.1 innings and opponents are batting .149 against him. He also had a hit in Sunday's game.
-- USC's bullpen is 16-1 with a 1.04 ERA in 182.0 innings pitched this year, amassing 186 strikeouts compared to 60 walks. Opponents are batting .184 against the Gamecock relievers.
USC OFFENSIVE STATISTICAL LEADERS:
Batting Average: Grayson Greiner (.340)
At-bats: Kyle Martin (188)
Runs: Joey Pankake (40)
Hits: Kyle Martin (63)
Doubles: Connor Bright (10)
Triples: Marcus Mooney and Tanner English (1)
Home Runs: Grayson Greiner (7)
RBI: Grayson Greiner (46)
Total Bases: Kyle Martin (82)
Slugging Pct: Grayson Greiner (.525)
Walks: Marcus Mooney (23)
On-Base Pct: Grayson Greiner (.411)
Stolen Bases: Tanner English (12).
SEC EAST STANDINGS: Florida 18-6, Vanderbilt 14-10, USC 13-11, Tennessee 10-14, Kentucky 10-14, Georgia 9-14-1, Missouri 6-18.
OVERALL SEC STANDINGS:
1. Florida 18-6
2. Ole Miss 15-9
3. Mississippi State 14-10 (Won series vs. Vanderbilt)
4. Vanderbilt 14-10
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