South Carolina had to adjust midstream when its offense went missing.
A team that had risen to the top of the SEC as a well-rounded squad suddenly had one-half of it gone.
It was clear force majeure – no coaching decision made the Gamecocks’ third hitter start swinging at BBs when he’d connected with volleyballs the first month and a half. John Jones’ slump affected the rest of the batters in the lineup and the production ceased.
USC coach Chad Holbrook and the Gamecocks stuck with their usual lineup until they simply couldn’t anymore, and then began using the simplest hit in the game.
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Bunts propelled USC’s offense to the SEC East title and got the team back on track. They helped get the Gamecocks through their first two games of last week’s NCAA Regional until Hunter Taylor’s base knock woke up the mashers in the batting order.
With everything clicking, the Super Regionals would be a breeze. Oklahoma State had other ideas.
As they did Saturday, the Cowboys didn’t allow USC any room to rally on Sunday. No leadoff man reached until the eighth, and by then it was far too late to waste outs on bunts. The Gamecocks could have used them in the middle innings, when they kept putting runners on base – but only after the first out had been recorded.
They had no other choice than to hope their hitters squared up some balls, but the Cowboys’ pitchers were simply better.
“We had our opportunities. We just didn’t make the most of them,” said senior DC Arendas, who saw his bat finally wake up last week only to see it head back to sleep this week. “A lot of that is due in part to how well they pitched in those situations.”
USC ran into a team playing its best ball of the season and was swept out of its own Super Regional. There was no coaching decision or better scenario that would have changed it – just better luck.
The Gamecocks scored two runs in 18 innings. One was on a solo home run. The other was on a wild pitch, the one mistake the Cowboys made this weekend.
USC stranded nine on Sunday and got one man to third. Combined with a bad defensive fifth inning, that was the game.
Holbrook’s taken more than his share of abuse from some of USC’s more passionate fans about things he’s supposedly doing wrong, but he did everything he had to do this season. It was all great in the first half, and when it wasn’t in the second, he revamped the approach to still win. Yes, some hitters could have had better plate approaches – but sooner or later, they still have to hit the ball.
“It’s tough when you can’t put many plays on, you can’t really hit and run much or bunt when the leadoff guy doesn’t get on, then on top of that, you can’t put too much on when you’re behind as well,” Holbrook said. “You got to give credit to Oklahoma State.”
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