Matt Connolly

5 things that need to happen for USC to make it back to CWS

South Carolina is looking to make it back to the College World Series for the first time since 2012.
South Carolina is looking to make it back to the College World Series for the first time since 2012. gmelendez@thestate.com

1. Forget about the SEC tournament: South Carolina has had success in the NCAA Tournament before after struggling in Hoover, Ala. The Gamecocks won two national titles, and played for a third from 2010-12, all while going 2-6 at the SEC tourney during that stretch. That said, the 2016 Gamecocks are young. All three weekend starters, and the majority of the lineup, have never played in the NCAA Tournament. Carolina needs to get mentally ready to play its best baseball and forget what happened this past week.

“I would’ve liked to play well here to create some momentum for next week. This is not any fun at all. With that being said, it does not dictate at all how we’re going to play next week. There is history to prove that,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “We’ll try to see if we can put a team on the field next Friday that South Carolina and our fans and our program is proud of. I think we will. We’ll be ready to go next Friday.”

2. Get Alex Destino back on track: The Gamecocks’ slugger leads the team with eight home runs and 52 RBIs, but went 1-for-9 at the SEC Tournament with four strikeouts. In the final 13 SEC games, he hit .200 with 17 strikeouts in 55 at-bats. John Jones hit .093 during that same stretch, and South Carolina can’t afford to have its top two power hitters, guys that have both proven to be able to carry a team, struggling at the same time during the most important games.

3. Starting pitching needs to return to form: USC’s weekend rotation has been exceptional for the majority of the year, but Clarke Schmidt and Adam Hill, in particular, have struggled at times over their past couple of starts. Schmidt has been unable to make it out of the fifth inning in back-to-back starts, and he allowed 11 runs (eight earned) in nine innings during those two outings. Hill only pitched 2 2/3 innings in each of his past two starts, allowing four runs against Alabama and three vs. Texas A&M.

4. Get productivity from the bottom of the order: The bottom of USC’s lineup went 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts in an elimination game loss in Hoover and has struggled for several weeks. The Gamecocks need two guys out of Jones, DC Arendas, LT Tolbert and TJ Hopkins to step up, or Holbrook might opt to give guys like Matt Williams, Clark Scolamiero, Danny Blair or Hunter Taylor a shot. South Carolina doesn’t even necessarily need hits from the bottom of the order, but at least a productive out would be an improvement.

5. A strong home-field advantage: South Carolina will almost assuredly host a regional, and still has an outside shot to host a Super Regional. Founders Park can be one of the toughest places to play in the country, but that wasn’t always the case this year. The environment against Florida was incredible, but was lacking on several other occasions, including against Texas A&M, a top-five team. The Gamecocks have historically been very tough to beat in Columbia during the postseason, and USC fans need to create a strong atmosphere for that to continue.

NCAA Tournament

The 16 regional hosts will be officially announced starting at 8:30 p.m. Sunday on the NCAA Baseball’s social media channels. The regional hosts will also be shown on the BottomLine of the ESPN Networks starting at 9 p.m.

The full tournament field, with regional pairings, will be revealed in a live, one-hour selection show on ESPNU at noon Monday.

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