Matt Connolly

Gamecocks scheduled tough weekend series early hoping for pay off later

South Carolina is 4-2 in weekend games this season as opposed to 6-0 at this point a year ago, but there is a reason the Gamecocks are optimistic and not frustrated.

USC opted to schedule tough nonconference series early in 2017 instead of lesser teams that would likely result in easy wins.

Carolina opened last year with weekend series against Albany and Penn State.

Albany was coming off a 14-28 season in which it finished with the No. 254 RPI in the country, while Penn State went 18-30 the previous year with an RPI of 169.

The Gamecocks pounded both teams, defeating Albany by a combined score of 24-4 and outscoring the Nittany Lions 27-8 in three games.

South Carolina opened the 2017 season with weekend series against UNC Greensboro and Wright State, and while the average sports fan might not know the difference between those teams and Penn State and Albany, the 2017 schedule is much tougher.

Wright State went 46-17 last season, finishing with an RPI of No. 42.

The Raiders made the NCAA tournament each of the past two years and won a pair of games in both appearances before losing in the regional championship.

“Kudos to Wright State. They’ve got a great team. I’m happy with my team in coming out of this series with two victories,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “It’s something to build upon. We’ll look back probably in April and May and say that was a big series win because that’s how much I think of their team.”

UNCG did not play in the NCAA tournament last season, but it did have a solid year, going 38-21 and finishing with an RPI of 74.

The Spartans are expected to be an NCAA tourney team in 2017. They were picked to win the Southern Conference in the preseason.

“Coming into the series on Thursday, out of the respect I have for their team and where I think they are, and how old they are and the type of team and club they have, I’d have took a series win,” Holbrook said after his team won two of three games against UNCG.

South Carolina was dominant leading up to the Clemson series last season, entering the rivalry matchup 9-0 with an average margin of victory of seven runs.

Still, USC lost two of three to the Tigers last season.

USC is hoping that playing tougher nonconference series early in 2017 will pay off throughout the year, including this weekend against Clemson.