Mark Kingston recaps South Carolina’s walk-off win, previews final SEC series
Who: South Carolina (27-25, 7-20 SEC) vs. No. 5 Mississippi State (43-10, 18-9 SEC)
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
7:30 p.m. Friday
2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Dudy Noble Field at Polk–DeMent Stadium, Starkville, Mississippi
TV: Streaming online all three games on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN
Radio: 107.5 FM in Columbia area
Weather: Chance of scattered thunderstorms late Thursday afternoon, mostly sunny with temperatures in the 80s on Friday and Saturday
SEC tournament chances: South Carolina, Kentucky and Alabama are currently tied for 12th place in the SEC standings with 7-20 records. While USC faces Mississippi State this weekend, Alabama visits No. 7 Georgia and Kentucky hosts No. 2 Vanderbilt. Alabama holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over South Carolina, who holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Kentucky. A three-way tie would be broken by the teams’ records against the highest common opponent.
All of this is to say South Carolina needs to win one more game than Alabama does this weekend while at least matching however many Kentucky manages. In the event of a three-team tie, USC cannot come out on top.
Because the Gamecocks do not control their own fate, the temptation to constantly watch the scoreboard and standings is powerful.
“Yeah, it’s definitely hard to do, because you know what they have to do for you to get in, especially when you don’t help yourself necessarily,” sophomore Parker Coyne said. “But we just gotta focus on what we’re doing and go do what we can do this weekend.”
Scouting the Bulldogs: Mississippi State has been on a tear as of late, winning 10 of its last 11 games, and the Bulldogs rank in the top 25 nationally in more than a dozen different statistical categories. MSU’s starting trio of pitchers — Ethan Small, Peyton Plumlee and JT Ginn — are all MLB prospects, and top batter Jake Magnum is the all-time career SEC hits leader and is currently batting .392.
The Dawgs’ impressive season coincides with the re-opening of their stadium, Dudy Noble Field, a $68 million facility that has been dubbed the “new palace of college baseball” and drawn one of the highest attendance marks in the country.
All of that adds up to a tall order for the Gamecocks as they try to steal a game or two from a top national seed.
“I know it’s one of the top teams in the country, it’s one of the best environments in the country,” coach Mark Kingston said of MSU. “They’re a very hot team right now, they just swept Ole Miss. They got three really good starters, it’s one of the best offenses in the country, so it’ll be a real fun challenge for us.”
Freshman emergence: When freshman catcher Wes Clarke got his first chance behind the plate in early March of this year against Gardner-Webb, it didn’t go well — an 0-for-3 performance with one strikeout at the plate, and three passed balls behind it.
After that, Clarke had to wait nearly two months before seeing the field again, but he’s been on a tear as of late — since rejoining the lineup in the series opener against Vanderbilt, he’s gone 8-for-25 with four RBIs, four doubles and a home run. And in his second time catching on Tuesday against USC Upstate, he impressed Kingston with his improvement.
“Obviously caught much better than he did the last time we gave him that opportunity. He’s made a lot of progress there, (coach Stuart Lake) has done a nice job there. And he’s becoming one of our better hitters. He gives as good of at-bats as anybody we have,” Kingston said.
Injury report: Kingston said Tuesday that he is “cautiously optimistic” that sophomore second baseman Noah Campbell (strained hip flexor) will be ready to play for Thursday’s series opener. Junior shortstop George Callil (concussion) may return for Friday’s game, Kingston said.