South Carolina baseball coach Chad Holbrook knows it doesn’t make much sense to stare at the SEC standings.
His team sports a 2-4 mark after being swept by Arkansas last weekend and stands behind eight teams — three in the SEC East. He realizes the No. 17 Gamecocks (19-6) must begin to dig their way out of this hole the old-fashioned way — one game at a time, starting with tonight’s nationally televised game against Texas A&M to open a three-game home series.
“You try to win your next game. You can’t put too much emphasis on one game or one series,” Holbrook said. “That’s what I told our team after the difficult weekend with Arkansas. We can’t let one weekend dictate how our season is going to go. We’ll wipe the slate clean and play (Thursday) against a great team and see if we can play well.”
Holbrook believes it is too early in the SEC schedule to get overly concerned. After all, last season’s team started 1-5 in the conference before rallying to finish 18-11 and win the SEC East. He cites a piece of advice from the former USC coach.
“We’ve got (a total of) 30 SEC games. There’s a long time between now and No. 30,” he said. “Coach (Ray) Tanner used to say all the time, ‘I don’t even look at the standings until we play 15 games, 18 games in the leagues.’ That’s kind of our mindset, too.”
And don’t expect the players to rehash last weekend’s results, when the Razorbacks outscored the Gamecocks 24-8 and outhit them 35-15. Catcher Grayson Greiner is convinced the team started a turnaround with a 3-1 non-conference road win against the College of Charleston on Tuesday.
“You can’t look in the past. The past, you can’t control. All you can worry about is the present and the future. That’s what we’re going to do,” Greiner said. “Texas A&M is a really good team. They’re hot right now, and we’re going to try to get back on the right foot and get some SEC wins here.”
To return to the winning track, USC must swing the bats better against SEC pitching. In six conference games, the Gamecocks are hitting .172 (34-for-198) with four extra-base hits. They also have 49 strikeouts to 18 walks. Holbrook realizes his team must make adjustments this weekend, which might include more sacrifice bunts earlier in games to manufacture runs.
“We are changing a few things about our approach and what we want to do in certain situations and how we want to play the game a little bit differently,” Holbrook said.
He liked his team’s more aggressive approach against Charleston, including their swings with two strikes. Shortstop Joey Pankake, who said the hitters have worked this week on attacking in two-strike counts, is convinced they have the right frame of mind to avoid a repeat of the Arkansas series.
“Obviously, that’s not how we wanted it to go,” Pankake said. “But we’ve got to bounce back, and we’ve got to be ready for this weekend. We’ve got to have a good attitude about it.”
The Aggies (18-8, 5-1 SEC) are playing well after sweeping Georgia to start conference play and winning two-of-three from a Top 10 Ole Miss team on the road last weekend. They feature solid starting pitching, a top closer in Jason Jester, excellent team speed with 46 steals, and one of the league’s best players in shortstop Mikey Reynolds (.426).
Holbrook knows the series presents another test. But he preaches to his players to avoid the highs and lows by staying even-keeled and being prepared to deal with failure.
They also know to avoid looking at those standings.
“In the SEC, every team beats up on each other. We can’t worry about what other teams are doing,” Greiner said. “We’ve just got to worry about what we can do to put ourselves in a good position.”
WHEN: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: Carolina Stadium
RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5
TELEVISION: ESPNU, today
SERIES: USC leads 1-0
LAST MEETING: USC defeated the Aggies 5-4 in the 2011 College World Series
RECORDS: USC 19-6, 2-4 SEC; Texas A&M 18-8, 5-1 SEC
RANKINGS: USC is No. 17 in Baseball America
PITCHING MATCHUPS: Thursday, USC RHP Evan Beal, Soph., 2-1, 4.12 vs. A&M RHP Grayson Long, Fr., 3-0, 2.35; Friday, USC LHP Nolan Belcher, Sr., 4-2, 1.45 vs. A&M RHP Kyle Martin, Sr., 2-3, 4.33; Saturday, USC LHP Jack Wynkoop, Fr., 4-0, 2.25 vs. A&M RHP Daniel Mengden, Soph., 4-1, 1.79
NOTES: USC SS Joey Pankake has reached base safely in 17 consecutive games. … USC 1B LB Dantzler continues to lead team in Triple Crown categories with a .345 BA, 7 HR, 27 RBI. … A&M SS Mikey Reynolds is fourth in the SEC with a .426 BA. … USC LHP Tyler Webb is tied for first in the SEC with eight saves, while A&M RHP Jason Jester is tied for third with seven saves. … The Gamecocks are 18-0 when leading entering the seventh inning and 14-0 when outhitting their opponents.