Gamecocks face uphill battle for national seed

Posted by NEIL WHITE on May 5, 2014 

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

In consecutive weekends against Auburn and Alabama, the South Carolina baseball team found a way to win on Sunday and claim those two series despite a continuing run of injuries and illnesses that will not go away.

That didn’t happen against Georgia over the past weekend, as the Bulldogs held off the Gamecocks in Athens to win the rubber game and put a dent in USC’s hopes for a top-eight national seed.

According to Boyd’s World, an analytical college baseball web site, South Carolina (35-13) slipped to No. 12 in its unofficial RPI rankings after the series loss. The site projects that the Gamecocks must win all eight remaining regular-season games – five at home and three on the road – to move back into national-seed contention, which ensures home games in the NCAA tournament until the College World Series.

In the SEC overall standings, USC (13-11) dropped into a tie for sixth with Alabama behind Florida, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and LSU. The Gamecocks fell eight spots to No. 17 in the Baseball America Top 25.

In a Baseball America online chat Monday, national college writer Aaron Fitt wrote, “I think there are just likely to be three or four other SEC teams with better resumes, and I don’t see any injury considerations being enough to overcome that. I’m not completely writing off South Carolina’s national-seed hopes, and I think they’re still very much in the hosting picture. But they need a hot finish.”

Coach Chad Holbrook hopes his team can get healthy as it approaches the end of the regular season. With SEC series remaining against Missouri at home and Vanderbilt on the road as well as mid-week home games against Wofford and The Citadel, he pointed out Monday on 107.5-FM that his team has done a solid job given the adverse circumstances.

“We’re in a decent spot. It’s not time for us to push a panic button and think the Earth is coming to an end. We’ve worked ourselves into a good position,” he said.

He noted that five wins in the final eight games will give the Gamecocks 40 wins in the regular season, which always is a good benchmark.

“If I coach 20 years, I’ll sign up for that every year,” Holbrook said. “We’ve got a lot to play for as our season comes down the stretch here.”

Holbrook knew going into the Georgia series that his team would not have outfielder Elliott Caldwell (back injury) and likely would not have second baseman Max Schrock (back injury) and outfielder Connor Bright (elbow injury), which proved to be the case. Then, versatile and valuable infielder DC Arendas, who made the trip despite being sick with a virus, took a ground ball to the head in Friday’s batting practice and did not play all weekend.

“We were certainly short-handed going into the series,” Holbrook said. “Losing him was a big blow, no question about it.”

With the exception of junior catcher Grayson Greiner, who went 4-for-9 with a pair of homers and four RBIs against the Bulldogs, the rest of the lineup struggled. Greiner leads the team in the Triple Crown categories with a .340 average, seven home runs and 46 RBIs, with marks of .344, four homers and 22 RBIs in SEC play.

But the other players in the lineup have not hit the ball consistently against stronger conference pitching as they did earlier in the season.

In 24 non-conference games, South Carolina has gone 22-2 by scoring 6.7 runs per game on a .303 batting average. In 24 conference games, the Gamecocks have gone 13-11 by scoring 4.1 runs per game on a .259 batting average. They have lost eight of those 11 conference games by either one or two runs.

“We haven’t done enough offensively to win our fair share of games,” Holbrook said.

Those offensive struggles have put more pressure on a pitching staff that has thrown very well with a 2.09 ERA overall, which includes a 2.71 ERA in conference play. Playing last-place Missouri (20-27, 6-18) at home this weekend presents a good opportunity for the Gamecocks – who have split their eight conference series – to get back on track.

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