Chad Holbrook previews series with Mississippi State
South Carolina is 3-5 in its last eight games and is coming off a 15-run loss to North Carolina on Tuesday, but Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook insists his team is in a good place entering a key series against Mississippi State this weekend.
“I don’t see any sense of kids feeling sorry for themselves or having lost any confidence or anything like that,” Holbrook said Thursday. “We sit here a game out of first. We’ve got a top 15 ranking, a top 15 RPI. I know some think the world is falling around here but it isn’t.”
USC is 7-5 in the SEC with six conference series remaining, while Mississippi State is one of four teams in the league at 8-4 atop the standings.
The Bulldogs are fresh off a series win over No. 15 Kentucky and have won eight of their past nine SEC games after being swept by Arkansas to open league play.
MSU is led by junior Brent Rooker, who leads the SEC in multiple categories.
“It’s like he’s playing slow pitch softball with the numbers he’s putting up. It’s hard to put his numbers up if you sit the ball on a tee,” Holbrook said. “We have to be extremely careful with how we pitch to him.”
For the first time in more than a month, Clarke Schmidt will resume his Friday-night role.
Since the start of SEC play, Schmidt has missed the series against Tennessee, pitched on Sunday against Alabama, Saturday against Auburn and Friday against Vanderbilt – but in the second game of the series.
USC has been working to move him back into his Friday-night role while also being careful to not have to pitch guys on short rest.
“We look forward to getting our rotation back in order and not having to move guys up two or three days and back two or three days. It feels like there’s some normalcy and consistency to this weekend, and I hope that’ll translate to on-field performance,” Holbrook said.
USC juniors Alex Destino and Madison Stokes were expected to provide a presence in the middle of the lineup for the Gamecocks, and while they have hit for power at times, they also lead the team in strikeouts.
Destino is tied for the team lead in homers with five and leads in RBIs with 25 but also has a team-leading 28 strikeouts. His average has slipped to .268
Stokes is tied for the team lead in doubles with six but is right behind Destino in strikeouts with 27. His average is the lowest out of regular players at .211.
“When you strike out quite a bit and you don’t hit for a high average, you’ve got to look at your other options,” Holbrook said. “They’re big enough boys to understand that. Something’s gotta give.”
Holbrook isn’t giving up on the pair, even if he gives them a day off.
“They’re veterans. They’ve given a lot to this program,” Holbrook said. “We need those guys in the lineup. They just need to perform the way that they’re capable of performing.”