The final SEC series of the regular season finds the South Carolina baseball team matched up with an opponent that appears to be a mirror image.
The No. 14 Gamecocks sport a 38-14 record, while No. 24 Mississippi State has compiled a 38-15 mark. In the official RPI rankings that help determine NCAA seeding, USC is No. 11 and the Bulldogs are No. 10.
The teams feature two of the SEC’s top sluggers in USC first baseman LB Dantzler, who’s batting .337 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs, and MSU outfielder Hunter Renfroe, who’s hitting .381 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs.
They also showcase two of the conference’s best closers in USC left-hander Tyler Webb, who’s 2-1 with a 0.54 ERA and 15 saves, and MSU right-hander Jonathan Holder, who’s 2-0 with a 1.15 ERA and 14 saves.
Both teams have posted 28-6 records on their home fields.
“It’s not easy to win on the road when you’re playing a really good team like Mississippi State,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “All of their position players are back from last year’s team, and last year’s team won the SEC (tournament) championship.”
Both teams are hoping to host an NCAA regional with an outside shot of pushing into the top eight national seeds. Both also want to finish in the top four of the SEC, which guarantees a bye in the first round of the conference tournament next week in Hoover, Ala. The Bulldogs (14-13 SEC) must sweep the Gamecocks (16-10) to pass them for the fourth spot.
“It’s not going to make or break our season,” Holbrook said. “(But) it does put you in a better situation from a seeding standpoint, both in the SEC tournament and the NCAA tournament.”
Shouldering the load
Dantzler is expected to play against Mississippi State this weekend.
Dantzler, who dislocated his left shoulder while running the bases in last week’s win against Wofford, sat out the past two games against Georgia and Presbyterian to rest his sore shoulder.
Holbrook said Dantzler could have played against the Blue Hose, but he decided to sit him one more game to ensure that he’s ready to play against the Bulldogs.
Holbrook was not certain if Dantzler’s shoulder will be healthy enough to play at first base or as the designated hitter.
Right-fielder Connor Bright, who missed the PC game with pink eye, also is likely to return to the lineup in Starkville.
USC VS. MISSISSIPPI STATE
WHEN: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m.
WHERE: Dudy Noble Field, Starkville, Miss.
RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5
SERIES: USC leads 35-26
LAST MEETING: The Gamecocks swept the three-game series in 2012
RECORDS: USC 38-14, 16-10 SEC; Mississippi State 38-15, 14-13 SEC
RANKINGS: USC is No. 14 and Mississippi State is No. 24 in the Baseball America Top 25
PITCHING MATCHUPS: Thursday, USC LHP Nolan Belcher, Sr., 7-5, 2.23 vs. MSU LHP Luis Pollorena, Sr., 6-3, 3.86; Friday, USC LHP Jordan Montgomery, Soph., 4-1, 1.86 vs. MSU RHP Kendall Graveman, Sr., 5-5, 3.00; Saturday, USC LHP Jack Wynkoop, Fr., 7-2, 2.75 vs. MSU TBA
NOTES: These two teams first met in the 1981 College World Series, with USC winning 6-5. … MSU has a 28-6 record at home, while USC is 10-8 in games away from Carolina Stadium this season. … The Gamecocks currently own a five-game winning streak. … USC has won six of nine SEC series this season, while the Bulldogs have won four of nine.