Matt Connolly

Gamecocks need productivity from bottom of lineup

South Carolina has aspirations of making a deep run in the NCAA tournament, but in order to do so the Gamecocks are going to have to get some help from the bottom of the order.

In Thursday’s 4-1 loss to Texas A&M, the bottom third of USC’s lineup went 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts.

John Jones, Chris Cullen and DC Arendas started the game with TJ Hopkins replacing Jones and LT Tolbert subbing in for Arendas. Each of the five players got at least two at bats, but the group failed to record a hit.

“We’ve got to make contact. I’ve got to put guys in there that can fight, scratch and claw and try to find a way to get on base or get bunts down or do something productive besides striking out,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “I’ve got to shake some things up a little bit.”

Holbrook has been searching for productivity from those spots for weeks without much luck.

South Carolina had four tough SEC series to end the season, hosting Florida and Texas A&M and traveling to Kentucky and Alabama. USC then faced Ole Miss and the Aggies in the SEC tournament.

In those 13 games, Jones, Arendas, Hopkins and Tolbert each received 20 at bats or more. All four players hit under .200 with Jones batting .094, Arendas at .143, Hopkins at .190 and Tolbert at .192.

In 100 at bats the group combined for 36 strikeouts. Jones struck out in half of his 32 at bats, while Arendas had 10 strikeouts in 21 at bats.

Making matters worse is the fact that USC’s best power hitter, Alex Destino, is in a rut as well. The slugger leads the Gamecocks in home runs with eight and RBIs with 52, but over the final 13 SEC games he hit .200 with 17 strikeouts in 55 at bats.

USC has a solid nucleus with Gene Cone, Marcus Mooney, Dom Thompson-Williams, Jonah Bride, Madison Stokes and Cullen. Four of those six players hit better than .300 during the critical stretch of SEC play, and none hitter lower than .265.

Destino is obviously a big offensive threat as well and will remain in the middle of the order, but Holbrook has two spots to fill with most likely either Arendas or Tolbert playing second and Hopkins or Jones in at DH.

Holbrook plans to spend the next week pushing his players in search of guys to step up before the NCAA tournament begins.

“We’ll go back to work. They’ll be tired of seeing me about Thursday, and hopefully they’ll be excited to play Friday,” he said. “We’ll probably go two-a-days about three or four days in a row. I’m going to make them as sick of me as I possibly can.”

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