USC Gamecocks Baseball

Now in SEC tournament, South Carolina still playing with ‘back against the wall’

Mark Kingston on South Carolina’s SEC tournament-clinching win over Mississippi State

South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston discusses what went right for the Gamecocks to defeat Mississippi State in the road series finale on Saturday, which clinched an SEC tournament spot for USC.
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South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston discusses what went right for the Gamecocks to defeat Mississippi State in the road series finale on Saturday, which clinched an SEC tournament spot for USC.

South Carolina baseball rose to the moment in one must-win situation. Three days later, the Gamecocks face yet another.

After the Gamecocks sneaked into the SEC tournament field on the final day of the regular season Saturday, upsetting No. 5 Mississippi State on the road, 10-8, they are set to face No. 16 LSU in the single-elimination first round of that conference tournament on Tuesday.

Once again, No. 12 seed USC will face long odds against the fifth-seeded Tigers, pegged by many observers to lose. But even with those expectations, coach Mark Kingston said his team isn’t approaching the game as if it had nothing to lose — the Gamecocks are trying to hold on to to that do-or-die mentality that worked against MSU.

“We’re still going to play like we better win or else the season will be over, so we’ll still have an element of that,” Kingston said. “But again, putting that pressure on this group will not do us any good, so I think our focus is going to be, let’s play hard, let’s have a lot of fun and let’s see if things can go our way a little bit for a rare occurrence this year.

“I think everyone on this team knows it’s still win or go home, and they knew that Saturday at Mississippi State and we played one of our better games of the year. Sometimes when your back is against the wall, guys perform better.”

Kingston also acknowledged that the Gamecocks will likely once again be playing in a hostile environment — LSU has a strong traveling fan base, especially at the conference tournament, which it has won 12 times over the past 32 years.

The two teams did not meet during the regular season, but Kingston did note the Tigers’ 8-5 record in midweek games this season and their offensive stats — LSU ranks in the top six of the SEC in conference-only batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and runs.

“Anytime you win the number of games that they have in the SEC, you’re a really good team,” Kingston said. “We know they’re offensive, their pitching has been a little bit uneven but when they’re on they can pitch with anybody. It appears that they lost a lot of midweek games but were much better on the weekend, and so I would expect we’ll see their weekend starters.”

Countering on the mound for Carolina will “most likely” be redshirt freshman Cam Tringali, who started the series opener against Mississippi State and has the most rest of South Carolina’s beat-up pitching staff, Kingston said. But as he tries to juggle the pressure to win Tuesday and advance to the double-elimination portion of the tournament without completely emptying his bullpen, he hinted that USC might take an unconventional approach.

“At the end of the day, we know our pitching is going to have to give us as much as it possibly can. We’ll most likely, not for sure yet, most likely go with Tringali in Game 1 because he has the most rest of all our starters, but he’ll be on a pitch count, so it may have to be every game we play, three innings at a time for guys, give us what you got and then we’ll hand it to the next guy,” Kingston said.

SEC Baseball Tournament

Who: No. 12 seed South Carolina (28-27, 8-22 SEC) vs. No. 5 seed LSU (34-22, 17-13 SEC)

When: Approx. 9 p.m. Eastern, Tuesday, May 21

Where: Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, Hoover, Alabama

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 107.5 FM in Columbia area

At stake: Winner plays No. 4 seed Mississippi State on Wednesday. Loser is eliminated.

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.

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