Peter Mooney has nine doubles. Adrian Morales has been hit by nine pitches. Adam Westmoreland has made nine starts on the mound. Robert Beary has drawn nine walks. And here are nine things I know about USC baseball.
1. I know all eyes will be on the SEC scoreboard this weekend. Fourth-ranked USC (37-10, 18-6 SEC East), which resides in second place in its division, plays host to No. 23 Arkansas (32-15, 12-12 SEC West), the co-leader in its division, while No. 3 and SEC leader Vanderbilt (40-6, 19-5 SEC East) plays host to No. 8 Florida (36-12, 18-6 SEC East). With the race down to its final two weekends, fans of the top three schools will be closely following those out-of-town results. The Commodores could go a long way toward winning the regular-season title with three strong games, but they could just as easily lose the narrow lead they hold.
2. I know it’s tough to win a game when pitchers give up nine hits and walk nine hitters. The Gamecocks suffered their first Sunday loss of the season – losing their first series in the process – when Ole Miss took advantage of all the baserunners by scoring a ninth-inning run for a 7-6 victory. Naturally, a lead-off walk in the inning proved costly after a single and a sacrifice fly moved the runner around the bases for the game-winner. Matt Price pitched valiantly over his three innings, but the Rebels managed to score the first run off USC’s closer since March 26 to pull out the win.
3. I know Jake Williams would love to hit another ball into the gap or the corners. The junior outfielder, a transfer from Wofford, currently has five triples on the season after hitting one in Sunday’s loss. That leaves him in a 14-way tie for second in the single-season record book. One more triple and he would tie Brian Buscher, who’s now an assistant coach, for the single-season record with six. Buscher accomplished the feat in 2002. The other players that Williams is currently tied with are: Michael Campbell (2005), Drew Meyer (2002), Nate Janowicz (2000), Brennan Dees (2000), Mike Curry (1998 and 1997), Adam Everett (1997), Garrett Carter (1986), Phillip Wilson (1982), John Marquardt (1978), Jim Pankovits (1975), John Sykes (1950), and Bill Harley (1931).
4. I know John Taylor is still tough to hit. The senior reliever has maintained his gaudy statistics this deep into the season. In 31 appearances – six shy of the single-season record – he has an eye-popping 0.96 ERA. Over 47 innings, he has given up just 26 hits – and not one of them has left the ballpark. Teams are hitting a mere .165 against him. And although he isn’t a hard thrower, he has 48 strikeouts thanks to a side-arming motion and good movement on his pitches. It’s no wonder that USC coach Ray Tanner keeps going to him. Expect him to break the record for appearances before the season is over.
5. I know the regular season is approaching the end when classes are out. The Gamecocks have gone into baseball-only mode now that exams are over. Tanner likes that the players are able to have a single-minded focus as the most important games of the season are being played. Weeks that involve five games such as this one also are easier to handle with players worrying about getting their school-related work done. But there’s also a downside. It means baseball season is that much closer to being over.
6. I know Presbyterian and Charleston Southern would like to grab a signature victory. Let’s face it, when the Gamecocks play the state’s mid-major schools, the games carry a great deal of significance. The little guys always like to knock off the big boys, and the big boys don’t get any bigger than the defending national champions. Furman and The Citadel, a pair of Southern Conference teams, both managed to split two games against USC this season, and there’s no doubt Big South squads PC and CSU, which both have their share of players from the state of South Carolina, would love to pull off wins, too.
7. I know Evan Marzilli is one tough customer. Last week the sophomore outfielder had an ablation procedure, which involves a tube being inserted into the groin, on Monday to treat his intermittent rapid heartbeat. By Wednesday, he was back in the starting lineup against Wofford. All he did was go 3-for-3 with a single, double and triple and make one really nice running catch. Now there’s the definition of a gamer.
8. I know Blake Cooper continues to be amazing. Last season’s ace – he won 13 games and pitched USC to its national title – is now plying his trade for South Bend, a Class A affiliate for the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Midwest League. But the hard-nosed right-hander, a 12th-round pick last summer, isn’t in the Silver Hawks’ rotation. He’s the closer. In 10 1/3 innings over eight appearances, he has five saves and a 2.61 ERA. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. That guy simply gets the job done.
9. I know Arkansas seems to give South Carolina fits. Until the Gamecocks swept last season’s series on the road, the Razorbacks were one of the few SEC teams that consistently gave them a whole lot of trouble. From 2003 to 2009, Arkansas won 13 of 18 meetings. Don’t think that a minute that the Razorbacks don’t remember what happened last year. They’ll come into Carolina Stadium ready to hand out a little payback. Expect a particularly hard-fought series.