Yes, South Carolina is 3-7 in its past 10 games. Yes, South Carolina has dropped three consecutive SEC series. No, this preseason top 10 team is not living up to anyone’s expectations thus far.
But what USC needs to do to get this slump turned around isn’t to try harder or spend more time fielding groundballs before games. Players and coaches need to take a deep breath and relax.
South Carolina is pressing. It’s obvious to anyone who has been in Founders Park over the past couple of weekends. When games get close, and USC has played a lot of close games, players are tensing up, making defensive mistakes and not getting clutch hits.
Teams are at their best when they are loose and having fun playing baseball. South Carolina doesn’t appear to be having much fun.
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The Gamecocks have been in the top three in the SEC in fielding percentage for most of the season, but throughout the last week have made uncharacteristic mistake after uncharacteristic mistake in big moments.
In the past six games, USC has made seven errors and has a 1-5 record.
In Saturday’s 5-4 loss to Mississippi State, the Bulldogs scored three runs in the ninth inning with the ball barely leaving the infield.
There were no errors in the frame, but the leadoff man got on when a ball was hit to third and went off Jonah Bride’s glove before being bobbled. Then USC had the runner caught in a rundown before LT Tolbert chased him back to first and threw too late to get an out.
Later in the inning a run scored on a wild pitch as the Bulldogs turned a 2-2 tie into a three-run lead while getting two balls out of the infield.
The feeling of doom set in as soon as Mississippi State got the leadoff man. Throughout the stadium, there were groans that might as well have been audible yells of “Here we go again.”
The Gamecocks are 0-6 in their past six games decided by three runs or less, and it’s clearly becoming a mental issue.
For the first time this season, USC coach Chad Holbrook coached third on Saturday, hoping to ease some of the tightness.
“Maybe I’m a little bit too tough on our players in the dugout. Maybe they’d relax a little bit. I was just searching,” Holbrook said. “It wasn’t anything strategic or anything. It’s not going to make a difference with me coaching third other than from time-to-time maybe the players will smile a little bit more in the dugout if I’m on them too much. That was the thought process there.”
Holbrook added that he could remain the third-base coach the rest of the season.
No matter where Holbrook is coaching from, the Gamecocks need to find a way to take a deep breath, ease some of the tension and get back to playing the way they are capable of.