After the South Carolina baseball team won its first seven games – fiveby shutout – there remained questions about how good it was because the schedule wasn’t strong.
The Gamecocks answered with a three-game sweep of a ranked Clemson team over the weekend. They overcame a five-run deficit Friday in Columbia. They controlled Saturday’s game from start to finish in Greenville. And they stunned an orange-clad crowd Sunday in Clemson with a four-run rally with two outs in the ninth inning.
“We’re a resilient group. We didn’t give up. We fought to the last out,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “That’s a good characteristic and a good trait to have in a baseball team because it doesn’t always go your way. I’m glad our guys kept battling and fighting. I’m proud of them.”
It’s becoming clear this USC team is good. With a killer class of junior players, the Gamecocks have experience to go with an abundance of talent.
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Kyle Martin, Connor Bright and Grayson Greiner have anchored the middle of the lineup with their big bats. Left-hander Jordan Montgomery fronts an excellent rotation, and right-hander Joel Seddon has embraced the closer’s role. His three saves, no hits allowed and 11 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings show he has the ability to do what Matt Price and Tyler Webb did.
Meanwhile, sophomore shortstop Marcus Mooney has been a revelation. He gives this team a game-changing defensive middle infielder like the 2010 and 2011 title teams had in Scott Wingo, Bobby Haney and Peter Mooney.
The Gamecocks (10-0) stayed at No. 3 in the latest Baseball America Top 25 behind No. 1 Virginia (9-2) and No. 2 Florida State (8-1), although they made it to No. 1 in the USA Today coaches poll and the Collegiate Baseball poll. Perfect Game placed them at No. 4.
But in a regular season with 56 games over 14 weeks, the polls are little more than weekly conversation pieces. The real No. 1 gets decided on the field the final week of June in Omaha.
Of course, that’s still four months down the road. A cautious Holbrook pumped the brakes on the postgame talk about the potency of his unbeaten club after the sweep of Clemson.
“It’s just one series. We’ve got to keep this in perspective,” he said. “We’ve played 10 games. We’re not 20 percent through our season yet. We haven’t played a conference game. We’re playing well. We’re doing some good things, but we’ve got a long way to go and a lot to improve on.”
Navigating 30 SEC games against teams from the best conference in the nation is never easy, although the Gamecocks have gone 78-40 in the SEC over the past four seasons. The Clemson series provided a taste of good competition, and they’ll enter SEC play March 14 with a three-game home series against Ole Miss.
The team’s confidence continues to grow, however. Junior center fielder Tanner English, who drilled the game-winning double Sunday, said he believes they can carry the early success into the rest of the season.
“Coach Holbrook always says the team that wins on Sunday is going to go far in the postseason,” English said. “When you have the mental toughness to win on Sundays, even when you already have two wins (in a series), and you don’t give up, that’s going to be to your benefit.”
The Gamecocks are winning even though Joey Pankake, and to a lesser degree, Max Schrock, haven’t heated up at the plate. Holbrook also continues to tinker with his lineup, although it looks like his best defensive unit features Pankake in left field and DC Arendas at third base.
But as long as Jordan Montgomery, Jack Wynkoop and Wil Crowe keep giving quality starts, the wins are likely to keep coming.
Then the answers on how good the Gamecocks are will follow suit.