Gamecocks look to respond after bats slump in road trip

Posted by NEIL WHITE on April 7, 2014 

Max Schrock

C MICHAEL BERGEN — mbergen@thestate.com

  • Gamecocks vs. Paladins

    WHO: No. 5 USC (26-5) at Furman (11-21)

    WHEN: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

    WHERE: Fluor Field, Greenville

    RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5 FM

    SERIES: USC leads 110-54-2

    LAST MEETING: The Gamecocks defeated the Paladins 5-0 earlier this season.

    PITCHING MATCHUPS: USC RHP Evan Beal, Jr., 0-0, 0.00 ERA vs. Furman LHP Harry Norman, So., 0-0, 5.68 ERA or LHP Ryan Dittmar, Sr., 0-1, 6.75 ERA

    NOTES: The Gamecocks are 19-0 in non-conference games this season. … USC won its other game at Fluor Field earlier this season, a 10-2 victory over Clemson. South Carolina is 8-3 all-time in games played at Fluor Field, which includes a 5-2 mark against Furman. … Beal pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings in his second start of the year in last week’s 2-1 win over Appalachian State. He has not allowed a run in two starts, with two hits and one walk allowed in 9 1/3 innings. … USC is outscoring opponents 60-8 from the seventh inning through extra innings this season.

    - Neil White

After eking out a 2-1 win over Appalachian State last week, the South Carolina baseball team took a weekend road trip to Arkansas. The bats, however, did not show up.

In losing two of three games to the Razorbacks, the Gamecocks managed three runs on 16 hits while striking out 26 times in the series. USC’s team batting average fell from .301 to .289, the lowest mark of the season.

USC coach Chad Holbrook predicted before the series that his hitters could run into trouble against the Arkansas pitching staff. Much to his chagrin, he was correct.

“We couldn’t get anything going,” he said. “Their pitchers are extremely good, their starters and their closer. We didn’t do enough offensively to help our pitching staff out.”

Of those 16 hits, three went for extra bases (all doubles). The Gamecocks, who slipped three spots to No. 5 in this week’s Baseball America Top 25, haven’t hit a home run since Grayson Greiner’s walk-off grand slam against Tennessee five games ago.

Joey Pankake carried a 16-game hitting streak to Fayetteville but left town with one hit in 10 at-bats. Max Schrock, who has tried to play through a sprained ankle for weeks, has two hits in his past 34 at-bats as his average has dropped to .232.

“We’re in an offensive funk, there’s no question about it,” Holbrook said. “We’ve got to respond the right way and get back to swinging the bat the way we’re capable or we’ll have more weekends like this one. The pitching staffs that we’re facing aren’t going to give us much. We’ve got to be more aggressive, and we’ve got to execute better.”

All that said, though, around 295 teams in the country would gladly trade problems with USC (26-5). Last week, the Gamecocks were ranked No. 1 in the NCAA’s official RPI, and the pitching staff sports a 1.79 ERA.

Holbrook said his team can play better than it did last week. Besides not hitting, the Gamecocks uncharacteristically made six errors against the Razorbacks that led to four unearned runs. Starters Jordan Montgomery and Jack Wynkoop threw well, but freshman Wil Crowe had his first tough outing.

The key is not to allow any carryover.

“Let’s not let what happened yesterday affect us today. We’ve got to keep a positive mindset,” Holbrook said. “We realize it’s a hard game, but we don’t want to pull our hair out. The task of getting them to perform is a difficult one, and we’re playing against some good people, too. You’ve got to try to keep it in perspective.”

It helps that USC remains in good shape in the SEC race. The Gamecocks, who have split their four conference series, are tied for the Eastern Division lead with No. 15 Florida, both with 7-5 records. Alabama (8-4) leads the West. Nine of the 14 teams have records that range from 6-6 to 8-4.

The Gators (20-12) come to Carolina Stadium for a divisional showdown this weekend – the first of six remaining league series.

“They’re going to be huge the rest of the way, because I don’t see much separation between the teams,” Holbrook said. “Every game and every weekend are going to be a flip of the coin, a 50-50 battle, and you have to play better than your opponent. We’re not going to out-talent our opponents. We’re going to have to out-play them. That’s the nature of the league this year.”

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