Matt Connolly

South Carolina’s offense is heating up at the right time

South Carolina infielder Madison Stokes has helped turn South Carolina’s offense around the past couple of weeks.
South Carolina infielder Madison Stokes has helped turn South Carolina’s offense around the past couple of weeks.

South Carolina’s offense spent the better part of three weeks from late April to mid May in a slump that resulted in a 4-5 record, including a 2-5 mark in SEC play.

It’s safe to say the Gamecocks have snapped out of it.

USC averaged three runs and seven hits per game during a nine-game stretch leading up to last Sunday’s showdown against Texas A&M, but in its past five games, Carolina is averaging nine runs and more than 12 hits to enter the SEC Tournament on a five-game winning streak.

“I’m a big believer that hitting is contagious,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said Monday. “We had a couple of guys get going, and our other guys got confidence.”

The lack of confidence was apparent during a five-game stretch that saw the Gamecocks go 1-4 and bat 3-for-40 with runners in scoring position in a pair of losses to Kentucky and Texas A&M and a 3-1 win over Presbyterian.

USC faced some strong arms against Florida, Kentucky and Texas A&M during its offensive struggles, but even in close wins over USC Upstate and PC, South Carolina scored four runs and three runs, respectively.

The Gamecocks began turning things around against Aggies starter Kyle Simonds, who had thrown a no-hitter the previous week before USC touched him up for four runs in 2 1/3 innings and went on to a 10-7 win to salvage the final game of the series.

South Carolina finished with 10 hits that day and has pounded out at least 10 hits in every game since.

This past weekend against Alabama, the Gamecocks hit .336 as a team, their best mark in an SEC series. The Tide entered the weekend second in the SEC in conference games in team ERA at 3.57 and fourth in opponent’s batting average at .251.

“We had consistent approaches. We didn’t chase pitches out of the strike zone for the most part. We had our best at-bats with runners in scoring position, which was a change from the previous few weekends,” Holbrook said.

South Carolina also got some guys going who’d been struggling. John Jones had no home runs and six RBIs in the previous eight SEC series before hitting a home run and finishing with six RBIs in the last two games against Alabama.

Jones said he remained confident, even when he was struggling for several weeks.

“You can’t look at your stats and base how you feel off your stats. You base it off how you feel, contact in BP before the game, up in the cages. That’s how I base how I feel,” the sophomore said. “I’ve never felt uncomfortable or pressure or anything like that. It’s just starting to swing my way, and things are starting to go my way, it feels like.”

Holbrook remained confident in the designated hitter/catcher.

“I had him in there because I thought he gave us the best chance to win,” Holbrook said. “I was not going to abandon the kid because I knew if he was a consistent player for us, we had a chance to be really good. He completes the middle of our lineup.”

Madison Stokes, who missed the first half of the season with a foot injury, went 7-for-9 with three doubles against Alabama. The sophomore entered the weekend batting .254 with three extra-base hits in 19 games.

“I’m just trying to get more at-bats and see more pitches and continue to work on my swing,” he said. “At first I was a little off, especially from the injury. I think finally I’m starting to feel more and more comfortable.”

SEC Tournament

Who: South Carolina vs. Ole Miss/Georgia winner

When: Wednesday, 2 p.m.

Where: Hoover, Ala.

TV: SEC Network

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