For the second consecutive week, No. 15 South Carolina faces the No. 2 team in the nation. After winning two of three from LSU on the road last weekend, the Gamecocks (33-12, 13-8 SEC) play Vanderbilt (39-6, 19-2 SEC) at Carolina Stadium this weekend.
USC coach Chad Holbrook looks at the Commodores and finds himself impressed by an abundance of talent again. He sees a .314 average — .320 in league play — and a 2.58 ERA. They’ve outscored their opponents 332-139 and have stolen 99 bases. Their pitchers are holding opponents to a .212 batting average.
“Their numbers are almost scary to look at,” Holbrook said. “Their pitching staff is incredibly deep. Their pitchers are awfully gifted. They’ve got a great bullpen guy. There’s no weakness there. They can beat you with the home run. They can beat you with speed. They’ve got power arms. They’ve got finesse guys. They’ve got everything. We’re going to have to play our best baseball to have a chance to win the series.”
The Commodores feature speed in Tony Kemp (.399, 23 stolen bases) and power in Connor Harrell (8 HR, 52 RBIs). They also feature a lights-out starter in Tyler Beede (11-0, 1.63 ERA) and a shutdown closer in Brian Miller (5-0, 0.68, 12 saves).
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With three regular-season weekends left to play, USC sits in fourth in the SEC standings behind Vanderbilt, LSU and Arkansas, which is where the Gamecocks need to be if they want to avoid the single-elimination playoff games for the No. 5-12 seeds that will start the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala.
Holbrook admits that it would be nice to get a bye into the double-elimination portion of the bracket, something it appears Vanderbilt and LSU are close to accomplishing.
“Everybody else is bubbled in there pretty tight. Hopefully, we play well enough to creep into that top four,” Holbrook said. “If we don’t, that’s OK. The worst we can do is lose one game in Hoover instead of two.”
But he wants his team to finish as high as possible for other reasons.
“That’ll put you in a spot to where you’re talking about national seeds or hosting a (NCAA) regional,” he said. “It won’t be the end-all if we don’t, but we’re going to try like heck to get there.”
The Sunday starter for USC is listed as TBA, but freshman left-hander Jack Wynkoop (6-2, 2.66 ERA) looks like a sure bet after winning SEC freshman of the week honors for his past two Sunday starts.
He’s ready to do his part again if he gets the call, which depends on him not being needed in relief the first two games.
“It’d be awesome if I get another chance to go Sunday. It would be a great opportunity,” Wynkoop said. “If they feel like they need to put me in a bullpen situation, maybe a tight situation, I’d love that, too.”
Wynkoop pitched well in shutting out LSU for seven innings to win the rubber match of that series. He didn’t care about the conference awards nearly as much as the victories.
“All the other stuff is just gravy,” he said. “It was good we got the win. That was the goal. It gives me some confidence, that’s for sure.”
Series info: USC vs. Vanderbilt
WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 12 noon; Sunday, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Carolina Stadium
RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5
TELEVISION: SportSouth, Friday; SportSouth, Saturday; CSS, Sunday
SERIES: USC leads 49-23
LAST MEETING: The teams split four games last season
RECORDS: USC 33-12, 13-8 SEC; Vanderbilt 39-6, 19-2 SEC
RANKINGS: USC is No. 15 and Vanderbilt is No. 2 in the Baseball America Top 25
PITCHING MATCHUPS: Friday, USC LHP Nolan Belcher, Sr., 6-4, 2.03 vs. Vanderbilt LHP Kevin Ziomek, Jr., 8-2, 2.12; Saturday, USC LHP Jordan Montgomery, Soph., 3-0, 1.40 vs. Vanderbilt RHP Tyler Beede, Soph., 11-0, 1.63; Sunday, USC TBA vs. Vanderbilt RHP T.J. Pecoraro, Jr., 2-1, 3.93
NOTES: Although USC leads the overall series by a wide margin, the Gamecocks hold only a slight 10-9 edge over the past five seasons. RF Connor Bright is expected to be back in the lineup after an injury that caused him to leave last Sunday’s game at LSU. C Dante Rosenberg continues to make steady progress in his return from a broken hamate bone in his wrist. The Commodores, who have won six straight games, haven’t lost a series all season.