FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
1. On a roll
South Carolina (36-19) finished ninth in the SEC and won four straight conference series to conclude the regular season. The Gamecocks play Texas A&M, which swept the regular-season series, in Wednesday’s first round, with the winner playing Florida on Thursday. With a national RPI of No. 30, the Gamecocks are in good shape to earn a third straight bid to the NCAA tournament in coach Beverly Smith’s fifth season.
2. Leading the charge
USC junior outfielder Alaynie Page earned a spot on the All-SEC first team with a spectacular season. She leads the team in 13 offensive categories, which includes a new school single-season record of 15 home runs. Page also is batting .444 with 11 doubles, seven triples and 45 RBIs at the spot. She hasn’t been caught in 13 stolen-base attempts.
3. Garnet and Blue
USC sophomore pitcher Nickie Blue, who has started 23 games in her 36 appearances, leads the way in the circle with a 19-7 record, four saves, 1.70 ERA and 152 strikeouts in 185 2/3 innings. The 6-foot-1 Blue threw a one-hitter against USC Upstate and a two-hitter against Arkansas.
4. Loaded again
The SEC is loaded in softball, too, as the conference has produced two of the last three national champions. The USA Today coaches poll has nine teams in the Top 25: No. 2 Florida (49-5), No. 4 Alabama (41-11), No. 7 Auburn (46-7), No. 8 LSU (44-10), No. 11 Tennessee (39-13), No. 13 Missouri (38-13), No. 14 Georgia (39-13), No. 22 Texas A&M (38-17) and No. 25 Kentucky (29-23).
5. History lesson
The Gamecocks are making their 13th appearance in the SEC tournament. They have reached the championship game three times, winning titles in 1997 and 2000 under former coach Joyce Compton. Their all-time record in the tournament stands at 16-17.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Kelsey Stewart, 2B, Florida
SEC Player of the year batted .452 with 35 RBIs and 22 stolen bases
2. Emily Carosone, 2B, Auburn
Batted .471 with 17 homers and 73 RBIs
3. Alex Hugo, 2B, Georgia
Batted .403 with 19 homers and 66 RBIs
4. Haylie McCleney, OF, Alabama
Batted .460 with 39 RBIs and 29 stolen bases
5. Lauren Haeger, P, Florida
SEC Pitcher of the Year posted a 23-0 record with a 1.46 ERA
SEC SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT
Where: Baton Rouge, La.
USC’s first game: vs. Texas A&M, 5 p.m. Wednesday
TV: SEC Network on Wednesday, Thursday; ESPNU on Friday; ESPN on Saturday