The forgotten days of Gorilla Ball made an abbreviated return for South Carolina this past weekend when the Gamecocks erupted for 36 runs and 45 hits in a rare weekend road SEC sweep at Tennessee.
But the biggest story for USC perhaps came on the mound when sophomore Jordan Montgomery returned from a month-long hiatus due to stress reaction in his left arm to throw four scoreless innings on Sunday in a thunderous 19-2 victory over the Vols.
"He did great (Sunday). His velocity was good. He threw strikes. He did a lot of good things," USC head coach Chad Holbrook said Monday on 107.5 FM The Game. "I was worried and nervous for him because of the psychological aspect of coming off an injury. But he handled it great. He wanted to keep pitching. I knew Jordan was back when he kept saying, 'One more inning' That was neat for me to hear."
Holbrook hinted at Montgomery's return last week when he raved about the southpaw's bullpen session with pitching coach Jerry Meyers. Prior to Sunday, Montgomery had last pitched against Clemson in early March.
"He's going to have some soreness today," Holbrook said. "I hope it's nothing too bad. He'll come in today and get some treatment. He'll do everything he can to make sure he feels good heading into a big weekend for us. It certainly gives us a formidable pitching staff when Jordan Montgomery is one of our top three guys."
The second straight three-game sweep for USC has rendered the Arkansas series (first sweep by a SEC opponent in Columbia since 1996) a distant memory as the Gamecocks have won eight of nine games since the Razorbacks' trip to the Palmetto State dropped USC below .500 in the SEC (2-4). But six consecutive SEC wins have put USC four games above .500 (8-4) in conference play.
After struggling at the plate in the first three SEC weekends, USC battered Tennessee pitching, compiling a .375 average (45-for-120) with 17 extra base hits, including 12 doubles and four homers, en route to the second straight sweep for the Gamecocks in Knoxville.
"I've always felt we had the ability to be a really good offensive team," Holbrook said. "I'll be the first to say I started to doubt that based on how we were performing. We showed what we are capable of this weekend. One weekend doesn't a season make, but it is nice to see our batting average get over the .280 mark. I thought we would hit between .280 and .300 on the year. I hope that's still the case."
Overall, USC has won eight straight games at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, catapulting itself into second place in the SEC East three games behind leader Vanderbilt (11-1 in SEC).
Freshman second baseman Max Schrock got off to a sluggish start at the plate in his first year of major college baseball before going 7-for-12 (.583) in the Tennessee series with five runs scored and seven RBI. Schrock raised his season average to .264 (32-for-121) with six doubles, two triples and two homers.
"It's not anything I did. Max is a good player," Holbrook said. "He has always been able to swing the bat. He was putting too much pressure on himself. Those of us who have played baseball for a long time know the feeling. It's not much fun when you're trying so hard and trying to impress so many people that you forget about playing the game. Max did a great job of putting things in perspective."
Schrock delivered a clutch game-winning RBI double in the top of the ninth inning on Friday night for a 5-4 win over Tennessee. The next day, he had a double, homer and two RBI in the 12-8 win over the Volunteers. In the series finale, Schrock had four hits and four RBI - both career highs - in the 19-2 trouncing of Tennessee.
Monday, the Chapel Hill, N.C., native was named SEC Freshman of the Week.
"We wiped the slate clean for him and said 'Let's start over,'" Holbrook said of Schrock. "Let's take a deep breath and take the piano off your back that you've been carrying around for the first 28 games. He did a great job of just relaxing and playing. He showed the type of offensive player he is capable of being.
"I hope he can build upon this and just play baseball the way he is capable."
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Max Schrock
LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 4-1
OVERALL RECORD: 26-7 (8-4 SEC)
NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 11 in Baseball America, No. 12 in Collegiate Baseball, No. 8 in USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll.
LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:
April 2 vs. Charleston Southern, W 9-5
April 3 at Furman (Fluor Field), L 6-5
April 5 at Tennessee, W 5-4
April 6 at Tennessee, W 12-8
April 7 at Tennessee, W 19-2
GOING TO GAINESVILLE: USC faces The Citadel for the second time this season on Tuesday night, this time at Carolina Stadium. Three weeks ago, the Gamecocks posted a 9-5 victory over the Bulldogs at Joe Riley Park in Charleston.
Sophomore right-hander Joel Seddon (1-0, 5.11 ERA in 12.1 innings, 11 runs, 15 hits, 16 strikeouts) is the probable starter against the Bulldogs, Holbrook said Monday. But he added multiple pitchers could take the mound before the night is over.
"He needs to get a start. We need to get him out there," Holbrook said. "He pitched well against Furman last week. Joel needs the ball in his hand and he needs to get some work in. But we're going to pitch a number of guys tomorrow with the short turnaround this week. We need to make sure we're fresh when we head down to Gainesville."
Hours after the game against The Citadel is complete, the USC players, coaches and support staff will board a bus to Gainesville for a highly-anticipated three-game series beginning Thursday night against the besieged Gators at McKethan Stadium.
The series opener between the two long-time Eastern Division adversaries will be televised nationally by ESPNU as part of the network's Thursday night SEC package, while Saturday's series finale will be shown by ESPN2.
Florida lost the talented core of players that reached the College World Series three straight seasons (2010-2012) - including the stunning loss to USC in the national championship series two years ago - and their successors are struggling to replace the production.
Florida is 5-7 in the SEC and has won just one of its first four conference series. Earlier in the season, the Gators were swept at home by Florida Gulf Coast, the same school whose Cinderella basketball team jolted March Madness by reaching the Sweet 16.
THIS WEEK'S SCHEDULE
April 9 vs. The Citadel, 7 p.m.
April 11 at Florida, 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
April 12 at Florida, 7:30 p.m. (CSS)
April 13 at Florida, 3 p.m. (ESPN2)
(All Times Eastern)
* Holbrook on Adam Westmoreland's impact: "He's pitched incredibly well. We knew going into the season we needed somebody that hasn't pitched like their capable in the past to make a huge contribution and step up and take a leadership role. That's what Adam has done. He's a local kid (Brookland-Cayce High graduate) that's gone through a lot since he's been here. If Adam had just been mediocre, we could have 10, 11 or 12 more losses. He's been that good out of the bullpen."
* Westmoreland factored into the wins on Friday and Saturday. In the latter game, he allowed just one run on five hits with six strikeouts and no walks in a season-high six inning stint, improving to 4-0 on the year. Westmoreland improved to 4-0 on the year with a 1.30 ERA and two saves in 12 relief appearances. He has 36 strikeouts to just four walks in 34.2 innings, opponents are hitting only .195 against him.
* Tyler Webb's two relief appearances at Tennessee pushed his career total to 95 and surpassed Michael Roth (94 from 2009-12) for second all-time in Gamecock history. Webb is seven appearances behind school record holder Matt Price (102 from 2009-12).
* Brison Celek emerged with four starts last week. Celek hit .455 (5-for-11) with six walks and a hit by pitch in 18 plate appearances. His on-base percentage for the week was a staggering .667. He doubled, homered, drove in four runs and scored five times. His highlight for the week came on Sunday when he belted his first career homer.
* Senior right-hander Colby Holmes earned two wins last week, raising his record to 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA in 38.1 innings.
* The Gamecock pitching staff boasts a 2.87 ERA in 295.0 innings with 293 strikeouts to 85 walks. Opponents are batting a lowly .234 against USC. In 12 SEC games encompassing 109 innings, the Gamecocks have a 3.55 ERA with 109 strikeouts (exactly one per inning) and 32 walks. USC has allowed five runs or less in 28 of 33 games played this season, compiling a record of 24-4 in those contests.
* USC is hitting .282 (306-for-1087) as a team with a .383 on-base percentage and ranks second in the SEC with 28 home runs. The Gamecocks have a .975 fielding percentage with just 30 errors in 33 games this season.
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