Streaking USC seeks even keel

April 27, 2010 

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USC starting pitcher No. 20 Sam Dyson takes the loss for the Gamecocks.

RICH GLICKSTEIN/RGLICKSTEIN@THESTATE.COM

  • Neil White

    USC baseball

    nwhite@thestate.com

COMING OFF THE weekend sweep of Georgia, the South Carolina baseball team seems to be catching every green light these days.

In the past 30 games, the Gamecocks have won 26, a staggering pace made more impressive by the fact they're the only team to win all six of their SEC series, including two sweeps.

The torrid run has vaulted them to the top of the SEC standings, both East and West, at 14-4, while the overall record of 32-8 has pushed them to No. 7 in the Baseball America poll.

"As much confidence as I had in these guys, it would have been a stretch to think we could have put up these numbers," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "But I'm ecstatic with them."

Considering they lost four of their first 10 games to open the season, including series losses to East Carolina and Clemson, the Gamecocks kept playing hard.

"We had those two tough series, but to be honest, we could have won both. We were right there," Tanner said. "Lately, we've been winning our series. It evens out a little bit. I'm certainly happy where we are."

By winning all of their SEC series, the Gamecocks have more than evened things out. Tanner cited the team's maturity and leadership that keeps the Gamecocks in every game.

"It's very difficult. You have to stay in the moment," Tanner said.

That sort of focus requires not getting too low when the team is 6-4 or getting too high when it goes 26-4.

"You don't change your approach regardless of the results," he said. "We'll keep attacking it like we have since the very beginning."

In the latest sweep against the Bulldogs, right-hander Sam Dyson tossed a three-hit shutout in one win. Outfielder Jackie Bradley went 4-for-4 with a home run and game-winning single in another win, lifting his batting average to a team-high .342. Third baseman Adrian Morales went 6-for-11 with two homers and six RBIs in the series to up his team-best RBI total to 35.

With different players stepping up each game, the Gamecocks' best quality has become their consistency. They now must try to keep it going in their next home series against Alabama, followed by three-game sets against Kentucky, No. 9 Arkansas and No. 6 Florida.

"We have four series left, two at home and two on the road. Our guys have done a nice job of being very competitive," Tanner said.

But he also knows that it doesn't make sense to spend time patting yourself on the back.

"There's one thing about this league: Win as much as you can while you can," he said. "The tough ones are around the corner."

Tanner continues to credit USC's deep bullpen for ensuring that his team stays in every game. Freshman reliever Ethan Carter came up big with two scoreless innings for the save in Sunday's 8-7 win against Georgia. Carter, who has not allowed a run in 14 of his 15 appearances, ran his scoreless streak to 14 innings, which lowered his ERA to 0.47. The bullpen doesn't have to do as much on nights where Dyson and ace Blake Cooper (8-0) pitch deep into games.

The pitching and defense - USC made no errors in the Georgia series - and timely hitting have the team sitting in a strong position to host an NCAA regional. But Tanner refuses to get caught up in the speculation, especially regarding RPIs and rankings, with 16 games and a conference tournament still to play.

"I don't look at those things. I don't think about those things. I don't spend any time dwelling on that," he said. "If you finish near the top in this league, you're going to possibly have a chance to host. I keep it simple."

And the Gamecocks have simply kept winning.

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