Beverly Smith: USC softball is ‘motivated’ heading to NCAAs
South Carolina’s softball team is set to begin its postseason in the Tallahassee Regional for the fourth time in six years.
The Gamecocks are the two seed in the regional and will play the third-seeded South Florida Bulls at noon Friday on SEC Network. The regional host and defending national champions, the Florida State Seminoles, will play the fourth-seeded Bethune-Cookman at 2:30 Friday on ESPNU.
“I think our team is motivated,” head coach Beverly Smith said. “We are happy to be going to Tallahassee, and it’s a new start for us, so I think a lot can happen here.”
The Gamecocks competed in the Tallahassee Regional three consecutive years from 2014-2016, including playing South Florida in the opening game in 2016. This is the 22nd NCAA Tournament appearance in school history for the Gamecocks and a program-record seventh straight appearance.
“In terms of the type of athletes we have here, for me the real judge is coming to work every day and just really enjoy being around this team,” Smith said. “I think the culture here is solid, and you’ve been able to see that in the consistency of us being able to return to the NCAA tournament.”
The Gamecocks are 36-17 this season and are looking to win at least 40 games in a season for the second consecutive year.
“When you look at all of the success that we’ve had and the season so far, we know what we are capable of,” senior pitcher Dixie Raley said. “We know what we can do going on this run.”
After transferring to South Carolina, Raley set many goals for herself. She recently thought about how she has reached those goals.
“I wanted to become the best pitcher that I could be, and I’ve developed a lot of pitches, particularly my changeup,” Raley said. “The goal was to compete in the SEC and play the best teams throughout, and I’ve done that. I’ve made it to the postseason and competed for a conference championship in the SEC, so I’ve done a lot that I wanted to do.”
South Carolina’s most notable SEC series win this season came against Alabama, who is the No. 8 national seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“We know that we can beat anybody who comes against us,” senior outfielder Kennedy Clark said. “We have that confidence, and we know we can do it since we’ve done it in the past.”
In addition to South Carolina’s experience playing in Tallahassee in previous years, South Florida is a familiar opponent from this season as well. The Gamecocks defeated the Bulls 8-1 on March 1 in the USF Tournament in Tampa, Florida.
“We played them recently earlier in the season, so we’ve seen them before and we’ve beat them before,” Clark said. “Just going off that confidence and coming out this weekend ... we saw a few of their pitchers.”
Despite finishing 9-14 in the SEC and losing five out of the last six games, Smith said South Carolina playing in the SEC prepares the team for postseason.
“If our team can learn from the experiences and move forward, we’re going to be really prepared,” Smith said. “I say this all the time: Nothing prepares you for the NCAA Tournament like going through the grind of an SEC season, and I think our team certainly learned a lot of lessons.”
NCAA Tournament Tallahassee Regional schedule
▪ South Carolina (36-17) vs. South Florida (40-17), noon Friday (SEC Network)
▪ Florida State (51-8) vs. Bethune-Cookman (26-29), 2:30 p.m. Friday, ESPNU