Matt Connolly

USC taking a positive approach entering must-win games in Hoover

South Carolina is aware that it vastly underachieved in the regular season.

The Gamecocks dropped eight consecutive series to close the year and did not earn a series win over a team that made the SEC Tournament.

But USC isn’t focusing on that as it heads to Hoover, Ala., with a final chance to earn a spot in an NCAA regional.

Instead, Carolina is confident it can make a run at the SEC Tournament, a place it hasn’t won at since 2012.

No, the Gamecocks did not earn a series win in the last eight weeks, but they also didn’t get swept the entire season. USC earned one win against all of the SEC tourney teams it played, including No. 1 seed Florida, No. 2 seed LSU and No. 3 seed Kentucky.

“Look, we’ve played every team that we’ve played so far real tight. We’ve taken games from them,” Gamecocks closer Tyler Johnson said. “We know that we can play with anybody that we play in the tournament.”

South Carolina opens play at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium on Tuesday morning against Vanderbilt and would face Kentucky on Wednesday morning with a win over the Commodores.

USC dropped heartbreakers to Vandy and Kentucky earlier this season. The Commodores were down to their final strike in Game 2 of the series before getting an RBI single and winning in extra innings. And Carolina was tied with the Wildcats in the eighth inning of the rubber match of that series before its bullpen imploded late.

The Gamecocks also led in the eighth inning of rubber match games at Florida and LSU but were unable to hold on.

Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said having so many close losses is part of what has made this season so hard.

“If we’re getting our tail kicked and we’re not in games, then that’s tough to comprehend,” he said. “It makes it extremely gut-wrenching and difficult when a number of those eight, a pitch here or swing of the bat there, when we’re in control of the game, we win a number of those.”

Holbrook and his team are hopeful that mistakes they made and misfortunes they had throughout the regular season are in the past.

The Gamecocks believe they are talented enough to go on a run and turn their season around.

Carolina has earned a victory against four of the top 11 teams in the nation in RPI. Now it needs to string together wins against top competition for the first time this season.

“There’s no reason we can’t go down there and get on a little bit of a roll,” Holbrook said. “The season’s not over. I’m going to hold out faith that we can get on a little bit of a run here and fight our way back in the conversation.”

SEC Tournament

No. 11 South Carolina vs. No. 6 Vanderbilt

When: 10:30 a.m. Tuesday

Where: Hoover, Ala.


Radio: 107.5 FM

Season series: Vanderbilt 2-1

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