The regular season in college baseball ends this week. It goes without saying that South Carolina wants nothing more than to finish it on a high note.
The Gamecocks wrap things up with a Tuesday home game against The Citadel and an SEC road series against Vanderbilt that begins Thursday. However, USC coach Chad Holbrook does not want to look ahead to the series against the Commodores, which has significant implications on SEC tournament seeding and NCAA postseason seeding.
He reminds everyone that the Gamecocks (39-13), who stayed at No. 17 in this week’s Baseball America Top 25 after a series sweep of Missouri, lost 10-8 to the Bulldogs in Charleston one month ago.
“First of all, we have The Citadel in here on Tuesday night, and if we can beat them, we will have our 40th win,” he said. “If you find a way to get to 40 before your regular season is over, you have had a great regular season.”
South Carolina has won a minimum of 40 games for 14 consecutive seasons, a stretch that dates to former coach Ray Tanner’s third season. In seven of those seasons, the team didn’t reach 40 victories until it was playing in the postseason.
While that figure remains a nice threshold to reach every year, Holbrook understands his program is judged on its play in the NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks have played in the tournament 14 straight seasons, including 11 Super Regional appearances, six College World Series trips, and two national championships.
Setting itself up for postseason play to include as many home games as possible is important, especially since USC is unbeaten at Carolina Stadium in 16 NCAA tournament games. That’s what makes the series against No. 18 Vanderbilt (38-14) so big.
The two are tied in the SEC standings at 16-11, good for second in the East and tied for third overall. The top four seeds in the conference get a bye from the single-elimination portion of the conference tournament, where more wins can help an RPI ranking.
In the RPI rankings, which the NCAA uses to help determine the top eight national seeds that can ensure home games until the College World Series, the Commodores are in much better shape. In the two unofficial RPI rankings out Monday that closely mirror the NCAA official list that comes out on Tuesday, Vanderbilt is No. 7 and South Carolina is No. 13.
It’s safe to say a national seed may be hanging in the balance for both teams. But Holbrook believes it’s not the be-all, end-all for either team.
“As far as the weekend is concerned, obviously, it is going to have its implications. And they are big implications. But the season doesn’t end no matter what happens,” he said. “If we play well at Vanderbilt or if they play well, the season doesn’t end on Saturday in Nashville. I understand this is the last regular-season series against a team that is really good, has played as well as anybody, and probably is the best in the country.”
The Commodores, who won the series on the road against first-place Florida over the previous weekend, are definitely one of the nation’s best, led by power arms Tyler Beede and Carson Fulmer. The staff has posted a 2.48 ERA with 469 strikeouts in 461 2/3 innings.
“They have more 95 mph arms than any big league team, and that is not a stretch,” Holbrook said. “What they have on the pitching side of things, I don’t know if I have seen in my time in college baseball.”
But the Gamecocks have pretty good pitching of their own, which makes this weekend’s matchup one of the nation’s most compelling, especially considering what’s on the line. Still, Holbrook isn’t looking that far ahead.
“We will have our hands full, but first things first; we have our game against the Citadel,” he said. “They played well against us last time.”