Notebook: National seed, SEC position on line vs. Vandy

nwhite@thestate.comMay 14, 2014 

There’s nothing like ending the regular season with a bang.

South Carolina finishes with an important SEC series against Vanderbilt, two similar teams with the same national title hopes.

The Gamecocks (40-13) are ranked No. 17 by Baseball America, while the Commodores (39-14) are No. 18. The two are tied in the SEC standings at 16-11, tied for second in the East and tied for third overall. That’s important because the top four seeds in the conference get a bye from the single-elimination portion of the conference tournament, where more wins can help a team’s RPI rating.

Improving the RPI is crucial because the NCAA uses those ratings to help determine the top-eight national seeds, which ensures home-field advantage until the College World Series. In this week’s RPI, Vanderbilt is No. 7 and South Carolina is No. 12, and these three games appear to be a showdown for a national seed.

USC coach Chad Holbrook understands how good the Commodores are.

“They’re capable of winning the national championship. They’re extremely gifted. We know that,” Holbrook said. “They can pitch it. They’re athletic. They can swing it. We’re going to have to battle our rear ends off to keep it close.”

Holbrook believes, however, that his team can match up with anyone.

“Baseball is played between the white lines, and we’re going to go out there and give it our best shot and try to see where we stand,” he said.

The Gamecocks have won five straight and head to Nashville with a little steam.

“Vanderbilt has some good arms, and they have a great team. We are just going to go up there and play our game,” USC junior first baseman Kyle Martin said. “We’ve won our last few games, and that’s got the ball rolling a little bit. We’re just going to carry the momentum and hope it gets us (some wins).”

Holbrook also knows his team is headed to the NCAA tournament, likely as a regional host, no matter what happens. So he keeps it in perspective for his players.

“There are more important games after this weekend,” he said. “I’m not going to let them get too high if we do really well. And I’m not going let put their heads between their legs if they don’t do well. … We’ve gotten our butts kicked in a series before and went on to win a national championship. It’s not going to define our season, but we’re excited about playing this weekend against a great team.”

Ready or not

Max Schrock sat out Tuesday’s win against The Citadel because of a stiff back. Schrock, who had a big weekend in the sweep against Missouri in his return to league play, is expected to play against the Commodores, most likely as the designated hitter.

Holbrook said he would have to manage Schrock’s recovery from the stress fracture on a game-to-game basis, depending upon the sophomore’s pain levels. Junior right-fielder Connor Bright, who’s nursing a damaged nerve in his elbow, is less likely to play after missing games and practice time. Holbrook could see using him as a defensive replacement, pinch-hitter or pinch-runner.

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