Despite winning eight of its last 10 games and claiming its past three SEC series, South Carolina baseball was left out again Monday when D1Baseball.com, Baseball America and USA Today coaches poll released their top-25 rankings.
The only SEC team with a better record over the last 10 contests is Auburn, who has won two of its past three series. The Tigers swept Vanderbilt this past weekend and vaulted into the top 20 of each poll.
The Gamecocks (28-19, 13-11 SEC), meanwhile, took two of three games this weekend at home against Ole Miss, a top-10 team according to both outlets. They also climbed to an RPI of 42, up from its season low of 120 in mid-March.
But in the end, seven USC opponents and six SEC schools made each poll ahead of coach Mark Kingston's squad: No. 1/1/1 Florida, No. 3/4/4 North Carolina, No. 5/6/8 Ole Miss, No. 6/6/7 Arkansas, No. 6/8/8 Clemson, No. 12/15/16 Georgia, No. 17/18/19 Auburn and No. 19/21/21 Kentucky.
In the USA Today coaches poll, Carolina received the third most votes of any team not ranked. In the latest poll released by Collegiate Baseball, which is not listed on the NCAA's website, USC is No. 11, ahead of Ole Miss, Auburn and Kentucky.
The Gamecocks have lost series to Florida, Arkansas, Clemson, Georgia and Kentucky this season, dropped a midweek game to UNC and is not scheduled to play Auburn this season. Had South Carolina managed to sweep the Rebels on Sunday in a back-and-forth game that went to extra innings, they may have managed to crack the top 25, Aaron Fitt of D1Baseball.com told a reader during a live chat Monday.
"The Gamecocks are right on the cusp; we debated ranking them, and if we'd had a fourth open spot we probably would have brought them in," he wrote. "They're definitely hot right now, and the last three weeks are loud. The overall body of work is still just a bit behind what Auburn and Georgia have done, so we ranked those teams ahead of SC. Maybe if the Gamecocks had completed that sweep, they would have forced our hand. Certainly you can expect them to be in the Top 25 if they win another series next week."
While neither D1Baseball or Baseball America has ranked South Carolina since April 2017, both included USC in its NCAA tournament projections last week as a No. 3 seed. But the "overall body of work" Fitt referenced in his answer includes three losses to teams outside the top 200 in RPI, tied with St. John's for the most among top-65 teams.
The Gamecocks also have a worse record against top-25 RPI teams than any ranked SEC team, as well as a poorer record away from home.
And while the past three weeks have certainly turned South Carolina's season around, Kingston himself warned fans in a radio interview Monday that without better starting pitching, USC's success will be difficult, if not impossible, to sustain — Gamecock starters have had just one quality start in the past two series combined.
"Any success you're having that doesn't involve quality starting pitching is hard to maintain over the long haul," Kingston said on 107.5 FM. "So we need better starts. Our bullpen has been very good but if you continue to put that much pressure on it, at some point you're going to see failing returns there and diminishing returns out of the bullpen. ...
"We're going to need better starting pitching if we're going to get really, really hot here down the stretch. Obviously the offense has carried us now for three or four weeks, but you be better be pitching really well out of the starting rotation."
The Gamecocks have eight regular season games remaining, starting with a Wednesday matchup against College of Charleston at Spirit Communications Park in Columbia. That contest will pit USC against its former coach, Chad Holbrook, who resigned after failing to lead the Gamecocks to the NCAA tournament last season.
Who: South Carolina (28-19, 13-11 SEC) vs. College of Charleston (32-16, 14-7 CAA)
When: 7 p.m., Wednesday, May 9
Where: Spirit Communications Park, Columbia, South Carolina
Listen: 107.5 FM
Probable pitchers: South Carolina — Fr. RHP Carmen Mlodzinski (2-4, 4.02 ERA); College of Charleston — TBA