Beverly Smith talks importance of USC softball sweep on senior weekend
With only four games remaining in its regular season, South Carolina softball is getting that feeling — the feeling of a team that, no matter what, is always going to find a way to win.
The Gamecocks demonstrated that ability Sunday, completing a senior weekend sweep with a 5-4 win over Mississippi State at Beckham Field.
After racing to a 3-0 lead over the Bulldogs early, helped by five errors from MSU, South Carolina (41-11, 14-7 SEC) allowed Mississippi State to rally, tying the game in the top of the fifth inning.
"I go back to the feeling in the dugout," USC coach Beverly Smith said. "When we went down, nothing really changed. It's just this team has so much confidence and belief in each other, and I feel the same way, I knew we were going to get it done."
Get it done they did, with two runs in the sixth inning and a gritty performance by freshman pitcher Kelsey Oh, who came on in relief after winning Saturday to secure the victory again, improving her record to 13-3.
"Our team chemistry has really done it for us. To be able to give up a run and automatically come get back has been awesome for this team. And the will this team has had this year has been incredible," senior catcher Alyssa VanDerveer said.
It is the third sweep on the season for USC, its most since 2003, and the 41 regular season wins are the team's most since 2002.
2002 was also the last time South Carolina hosted an NCAA regional, something only the top 16 seeds get to do. In the preseason, Smith and her players said hosting was their goal for this year, despite the fact that they were picked to finish 12th out of 13 teams in the SEC. Now, with just one more regular season home game, a midweek contest against Charleston Southern, and a road series against Kentucky, the Gamecocks feel they've done enough to accomplish that goal.
"I think we've done enough," Oh said. "I think our actions speak for themselves. We're going to keep our heads down and keep on working, grinding through these last few games."
Smith, however, doesn't want to leave any doubt.
"I hope so, but I'll tell you what — I would like to take it into our own hands and take care of business. I'd like to just make sure we do it our way and keep winning," she said.
"I think it's important to win the series at Kentucky. I just want our body of work to tell the committee we deserve to host."
Regardless, Smith said she is happy to take at least a moment to appreciate all that the program's six seniors have done for the Gamecocks — three each were honored Saturday and Sunday, and the team will host a banquet Sunday night.
"It's always an emotional weekend, it's fun, the families are in town, but the fact we could get wins on their senior day, they'll never forget that," Smith said.
For the seniors themselves, however, while the weekend was nice, they were more determined to keep winning than spend time thinking about final home games.
"I'm not even focused on that, just continuing to push through and focus on having a great postseason," senior first baseman Krystan White said.
"Our emotions were, 'We're ready to kick butt,'" VanDerveer said of her approach entering the weekend. "Obviously it was senior weekend, it was an emotional weekend, but at the same time, we knew what we had to do and we came out here and took care of business."
For Smith, taking care of business means being flexible and scratching out wins in every possible manner, something she felt the team did against Mississippi State.
"We've just continued to gain confidence," Smith said. "We've won in a lot of different ways. Yesterday it was a lot of the long ball, today we were able to put in on the ground and move runners around."
And while this weekend may have marked the last guaranteed series at Beckham Field for the 2018 season, VanDerveer said her confidence in hosting an NCAA regional means she's not getting too emotional about senior weekend, as she thinks there are still home games to come.
"I hope that we have a lot of home games left," she said. "I'm not really ready to leave this place yet."