Four straight home wins last week marked a solid turnaround for the South Carolina baseball team, which jumped up three spots to No. 15 in the latest Baseball America Top 25. The Gamecocks (31-10, 11-7 SEC) defeated College of Charleston in a mid-week game before sweeping Kentucky. Let’s review what happened.
The senior left-handed closer showed his toughness by getting a win and a save against Kentucky when it looked doubtful at the start of last week if he’d even be able to pitch due to a sore elbow that caused him to miss the Florida series. But he showed a lot of grit as well as his typical great command by pitching three scoreless innings to get the win Saturday and one more inning Sunday to record the save. He’s now 2-1 with a 0.64 ERA and 12 saves in 19 relief appearances. In 28 innings, he has piled up 42 strikeouts. The pair of appearances also upped his career total to 97, which leaves him just five short of the program record of 102 set by Matt Price from 2009-12.
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The freshman left-hander came up big as the Sunday starter to help the Gamecocks complete the sweep. After not starting since the end of March, he stepped back into the rotation and tossed a career-high eight innings in a 3-1 win. He scattered nine hits and allowed only an unearned run while not walking a batter. His solid start, which came at the perfect time to help out a bullpen that has suffered from injuries and inconsistency, likely means he has earned that rotation spot again. He’s now is 5-2 with a 3.12 ERA. Wynkoop on Monday was named SEC Freshman of the Week.
While Webb and Adam Westmoreland have pitched great, which has led to a significant reliance on their arms in key situations, the rest of the relief staff has struggled to find some consistency. Only Patrick Sullivan and Vince Fiori sport an ERA under 4.00, while Colby Holmes, Curt Britt, Evan Beal, Joel Seddon and Forrest Koumas can’t seem to find a steady groove, although some of that could be a lack of steady use, according to USC coach Chad Holbrook. With Webb ailing, Holmes was moved to the back end of the bullpen, but he allowed a run in his only inning against Charleston and he walked the only hitter he faced to start the ninth inning of Sunday’s win over Kentucky.
... Shortstop Joey Pankake went 7-for-14 last week and had his first good SEC weekend at the plate. Just as importantly, he didn’t make an error in the Kentucky series.
... Second baseman Max Schrock just keeps getting better. His defense continues to be excellent, and his hitting has taken off. With a 5-for-10 weekend series, he’s now batting .277 with seven doubles, two triples, four homers, and 30 RBIs, which is tied for second on the team. He also leads the Gamecocks with 12 stolen bases.
... Opposing teams continue to struggle on how to get first baseman LB Dantzler out. With two more homers and six more RBIs last week, he’s batting a team-high .331 with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs. He’s in the Top 5 in the SEC in five different offensive categories. His OPS of 1.113 – a .444 on-base percentage and a .669 slugging percentage – remains in the stratosphere.
This was supposed to be a breakout season for speedy center fielder Tanner English when it came to stolen bases. Before the season, Holbrook predicted 50 stolen-base attempts and over 40 stolen bases. But English’s running game is still up on blocks, with just four steals in eight attempts. It has nothing to do with him not getting on base either since his OBP is a strong .430. He simply isn’t running much.
JUST THE FACTS
... Sophomore catcher Grayson Greiner caught all 29 innings over the weekend and played stellar defense, which led Holbrook to call him “a special kid back there.”
... Junior designated hitter Brison Celek has put together a career-long nine-game hitting streak.
... Senior left-hander Nolan Belcher has walked just five batters in 74 innings this season.
... The Gamecocks are back up to hitting .290 (396-for-1366), fourth in the SEC through all 41 games. They also lead the conference with 39 homers.
... Tuesday: at Gardner-Webb, Keeter Stadium, Shelby, N.C., 6 p.m.
... Friday: at LSU, Alex Box Stadium, 8 p.m., (Cox Sports Television)
... Saturday: at LSU, Alex Box Stadium, 7:30 p.m. (Cox Sports Television)
... Sunday: at LSU, Alex Box Stadium, 3 p.m. (ESPN)