Matt Connolly

Bats beginning to warm up for Gamecocks

Taking two out of three games at Tennessee would have been an accomplishment for a banged up South Carolina squad this past weekend.

The Gamecocks were without ace Clarke Schmidt and closer Tyler Johnson. Also, center fielder TJ Hopkins and catcher Chris Cullen missed Sunday’s series finale with minor injuries.

Instead, USC went to Knoxville and came back with a sweep against a Volunteers squad that entered the weekend 12-2 and ranked in some polls.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you it was a tad little bit more special for me knowing that the guys had to rally around each other and they didn’t bat an eye who was out and who couldn’t play and who wasn’t on the trip,” South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. “I think they expected to win. Yea, that makes it a little bit more satisfying.”

With some key arms out South Carolina needed its offense to step up and provide run support and it did.

The Gamecocks scored 23 runs on the weekend and pounded out 33 hits. The previous high for runs scored in a weekend series was 15 against Wright State.

“It’s the next man up type deal and that’s kind of how they played this weekend,” Holbrook said.

USC relied on the long ball against Tennessee, hitting a pair of home runs in all three games.

And it wasn’t just one player carrying the load. Chris Cullen, Jacob Olson, TJ Hopkins, Jonah Bride, Alex Destino and Madison Stokes all hit balls out of the park off Tennessee pitchers.

The Gamecocks added seven doubles in the series.Bride and Stokes each doubled twice and homered on the opening weekend of SEC play.

“We’ve got some guys with some athletic ability and explosiveness and bat speed and we got into some balls this weekend,” Holbrook said. “It was nice to see because I don’t think we’ve done that up to this point in three consecutive games.”

As a team South Carolina has homered in seven straight games and has hit 13 homers during that stretch.

The Gamecocks are 7-0 since losing two of three games against Clemson in early March and have outscored opponents 51-22 during that time.

“The toughest loss we’ve had is the series loss to Clemson, but I don’t feel like our team has bounced back from much. We’ve played pretty good. We’ve won series from good teams and this is another one on the road against a top 25 team,” Holbrook said.

“The sky’s the limit for us if we get healthy and play the way we’re capable of. We’re figuring it out, and we’re getting closer. I’ve got a good group of kids and they’re pulling hard for each other. I love the feel of the dugout I’m in.”