The South Carolina baseball team sports the same record after 37 games that it did last season — 27-10 overall and 8-7 in the SEC.
This time, it feels different. Last season, the Gamecocks were coming off a home sweep of Mississippi State. This weekend they just got swept on the road against Florida.
The first two games were one-run losses that could have gone the other way. The sweep was capped by a blowout loss to the resurgent Gators (19-18, 8-7 SEC).
With the toughest part of the schedule ahead of his team — including conference series against No. 17 Kentucky, No. 3 LSU, No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 16 Mississippi State — coach Chad Holbrook knows the No. 18 Gamecocks have high hurdles to clear.
“We’re not in a good spot, I’ll be the first to tell you,” Holbrook said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say, ‘Hey, we’re OK,’ because I don’t feel that way.”
His team couldn’t get a key hit all weekend, made big errors to open the series and didn’t pitch well enough at the end of it. Holbrook hopes the series served as an educational experience for his players on how small the margin of error is in this league.
“If you don’t step up there and get big hits through will and determination and fight at the plate and compete, the other team is going to get the better of you,” he said.
A season-long spate of injuries continued against the Gators.
Closer Tyler Webb came up with a sore elbow, and backup catcher Dante Rosenberg broke the hamate bone in his wrist. But Holbrook said his players can’t use tough breaks as an excuse.
“It would help if we get some of our guys back,” he said. “But you know what? Whoever’s dressed and whoever’s healthy, it’s the University of South Carolina baseball program, and we’ve got to try to figure out a way to win and put ourselves in a little bit better spot. It’s not going to be easy.”
Catcher Grayson Greiner’s backups now include Patrick Harrington, Brison Celek and Erik Payne until Rosenberg, a senior who was playing very well, can get back in four to six weeks. Holbrook hopes the team still is playing by the time he recovers.
An even greater concern is pitching depth, especially after Saturday’s 14-5 loss.
“We’ve got to go with the guys we’ve got,” Holbrook said. “(Evan) Beal has got to get better. (Forrest) Koumas has got to give us something. (Joel) Seddon has got to give us something.” Those guys that have been around and we’re counting on them to give us more than what they’ve been giving us.”
Koumas, a junior right-hander, gets the start Tuesday night in an effort to ignite his season. Holbrook called him healthy but lamented his lack of control.
“He just needs some confidence and a couple of good outings. He needs to throw strikes and work ahead of hitters, which is not what he’s done,” Holbrook said. “He’s experienced, he’s pitched in Omaha, (and) he’s pitched in a national championship game. We’re counting on him to give us quality outings the second half of the year.”
Freshman left-hander Jack Wynkoop likely will move into the weekend rotation.
But the Gamecocks also must hit with more consistency. They’re batting .284 overall but .254 in 15 conference games. With all the regulars now healthy after a run of injuries, they must start producing when it counts.
“I don’t have any problem with the talent we’re putting out there. We’ve got good enough players,” Holbrook said.
“I thought this team would be a better offensive team than we were a year ago. Based on the numbers, that has a chance to be the case,” Holbrook said. “But we’ve got to get bigger hits and capitalize on our opportunities. We’ve got to be tougher with two strikes.”
And they can’t afford to give away more runs in close conferences games with poor defense if they want to push that SEC record well above .500 as they did with six straight wins before the sweep by Florida.
“We’re going to have to play better to get that done,” Holbrook said.
Pregame: USC vs. College of Charleston
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday
SERIES: USC leads 46-6
WHERE: Carolina Stadium
RADIO: WNKT 107.5 FM
LAST MEETING: USC beat the Cougars 3-1 earlier this season
RECORDS: USC 27-10; College of Charleston 20-15
RANKINGS: USC is No. 18 in Baseball America Top 25
PITCHING MATCHUPS: USC RHP Forrest Koumas, Jr., 0-0, 6.39 ERA vs. Charleston LHP Player Loving, Fr., 1-1, 4.85 ERA
NOTES: Player Loving, a local product from A.C. Flora, is getting his first career start for the Cougars. In its 37 games, USC has allowed five runs or fewer in 31, going 25-6 in those games. USC 1B LB Dantzler is third in the SEC in home runs (10), fourth in slugging percentage (.621), fifth in walks (26), tied for seventh in RBIs in (36) and 11th in on-base percentage (.436). C Grayson Greiner’s .362 SEC average has upped his overall BA to .306.