SEC Tournament: MSU Preview

No. 18 MISSISSIPPI STATE (36-20, 18-12) v. NO. 15 SOUTH CAROLINA (42-14, 18-12)
When: Approximately 8 p.m.
Where: Hoover Metropolitan Stadium
Tickets: Available at the box office
Probable starting pitchers:
South Carolina: Jordan Montgomery (Jr. LHP) 7-4, 3.26 ERA, 88.1 IP, 25 BB, 85 SO
Mississippi State: Trevor Fitts (Jr. RHP) 4-3, 2.59 ERA, 62.2 IP, 10 BB, 55 SO
The series:USC leads the series 36-29.
The last time: From May 16-18, 2013, Mississippi State won two of three in Starkville in the final SEC regular season series of the year. The Bulldogs were then USC's opponent in the first game of the SEC Tournament four days later and defeated the Gamecocks 5-3.
The Gamecocks are 29-1 when leading entering the seventh inning as well as 34-1 when leading entering the ninth inning. The Gamecocks are 36-4 when outhitting the opponent as well. South Carolina is 9-4 in one-run games and 40-8 when allowing five runs or less.
The Gamecocks are 21-1 when scoring six runs or more as well. South Carolina is 20-11 in games decided by three runs or less. The Gamecocks have allowed three runs or less in 41 of 56 games this year with a 38-3 record in those contests.
South Carolina's bullpen is 19-1 with a 1.06 ERA in 203.1 innings pitched this year. The bullpen has 206 strikeouts to 67 walks, opponents batting .189 against the relievers. The relief staff has limited opponents to 29 runs, 24 earned, on 135 hits.
2014 - 19-1, 1.06 ERA, 203.1 IP, 135 H, 29 R, 24 ER, 67 BB, 206 SO, Opp BA .189 
2013 - 19-10, 3.24 ERA, 225.1 IP, 219 H, 104 R, 81 ER, 69 BB, 221 SO, Opp BA .249 
2012 - 21-10, 2.76 ERA, 250.2 IP, 197 H, 83 R, 77 ER, 105 BB, 270 SO, Opp BA .217 
2011 - 23-4, 2.42 ERA, 249.1 IP, 201 H, 81 R, 67 ER, 115 BB, 241 SO, Opp BA .223 
2010 - 26-5, 3.37 ERA, 264.2 IP, 207 H, 117 R, 99 ER, 105 BB, 289 SO Opp BA .216
HOOVER, Ala. -- Momentum is a big deal in sports, and baseball is no exception.
A year ago, South Carolina had just lost a weekend road series to Mississippi State, then four days later fell to the Bulldogs once again.
This time, the Gamecocks are on a roll, having won seven of eight games, including most recently a road series at No. 19 Vanderbilt, rated No. 6 in the RPI.
"Hopefully we can ride on the momentum we have," said sophomore second baseman Max Schrock, who is listed as questionable for tonight's game depending on how his back feels. "Guys are getting healthy and we're getting guys back in the lineup.
"The guys that are in there right now are getting real comfortable, and that's going to help us out a lot. Obviously it's a big confidence booster to see us back from not playing as well as we wanted to at Georgia and bounce right back and have a real good series at Vanderbilt.
"We played some really good baseball at Vanderbilt, and hopefully we can take that into Hoover.
One player who hasn't missed a single start this season, Tanner English, feels the same way. It was his throw to get the runner at home plate in Nashville on Thursday night that kept the Gamecocks alive long enough to win it, sustaining the momentum and generating the feeling in the dugout that good things are going to happen to this team.
First, however, he had to make the throw. English said his thought process on the play was simple.
"Don't screw it up," English said. "Off the bat, coach Holbrook had us playing in a little bit and that turf was really really fast, so that kid hit the ball well through the infield and I jut tried to get to is as fast as I could and not botch it.
"Coach Holbrook always talks about outfielders getting the ball back in there (to the infield) and not messing up the game. I couldn't really get it to a cutoff man and had to throw it home, and luckily I put it right on the bag and got him."
So, do big plays equal confidence?
"I think so," said English, who is hitting .278 on the year and leads the team in stolen bases with 17 in 20 attempts. "Big plays everywhere, like Max saving the game for us, then that carries over to defense, then carries back over to offense when Joey hits the hardest ball of the year that I've seen. When things are going your way, they're going your way. It's good momentum."
Can that translate to Hoover success?
"I think it's got to get you a lot," English said. "Vandy is a great, great program, and we knew it was going to be a dogfight going down there.
"We've not traditionally done well in Hoover, so this year we have something potentially to play for, a national seed, so we're going to go down there, give it all we've got, leave it on the field and go play Gamecock baseball."
WHAT TO WATCH: USC's plate approach. Talking to Tanner English before the bus trip to Hoover, he said one adjustment the team made was in its approach at the plate while facing elite pitchers.
"Offensively, we really tried to simplify things this (past) weekend," English said. "We knew coming into the weekend that we were probably facing the best arms we've seen all year as a whole, and we didn't want to go in and be too big and try to do too much with the ball.
"A lot of little base hits got us the runs that we needed, and we're going to try to keep that going to the rest of the season."
The Gamecocks are facing MSU's Trevor Fitts, a big (6-foot-2, 212) right-hander who played his high school baseball a scant nine miles from Hoover Metropolitan Stadium at nearby Pelham High School. Fitts has started 14 games this year, and MSU is 10-4 in those games. He's thrown in all three weekend spots, so he's comfortable anywhere, and he's also spent time as a reliever during his career.
He's a three-pitch pitcher (fastball in the 88-90 range, curveball in the high 70s and a slider he throws at around 80 miles per hour. What's most impressive is that he works quickly - he averages 71.5 pitches per start. For USC to be successful, it's going to have to treat every at-bat with care and every baserunner like a treasured possession. Fortunately, they've just had a weekend series to perfect that art.
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