Neil White

Series win over Vandy gives USC new hope for NCAA Tournament

The Gamecocks bench gets fired up during Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt.
The Gamecocks bench gets fired up during Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt. mbergen@thestate.com

THE LOWEST point of South Carolina’s baseball season came after Thursday night’s 12-0 loss to Vanderbilt.

It looked very much like the Gamecocks might not make it to the NCAA tournament for the 16th straight seasons. Heck, they looked so bad in a five-game losing streak that it appeared they might not be one of the 12 teams in the SEC tournament.

Then, junior left-hander Jack Wynkoop tossed a complete game in Friday’s 5-2 win over the No. 5 Commodores. A three-run sixth-inning rally – backed by strong relief pitching from Cody Mincey and Taylor Widener – in Saturday’s 3-2 victory gave USC its first series victory in five weeks.

After losing 13 of the previous 19 games, the two wins brought a sense of relief to the program.

“Two games in a row, we beat one of the best, if not the best, teams in the country. We should have confidence,” coach Chad Holbrook said.

With four weekends to play, the Gamecocks (25-16, 8-10 SEC) still have plenty of work to do to earn an NCAA tournament berth, but the two wins over Vanderbilt certainly help the resume.

“We have some issues, and we have some things we have to try to shore up and continue to improve upon. We’re certainly not a perfect baseball team by any stretch, but they gave me all they had (Friday and Saturday),” Holbrook said. “If we can do that our last 15 games, I’ll be a proud coach and I think we’ll be sitting in an OK spot.”

The next two series are being played against teams below the Gamecocks in the overall SEC standings: Tennessee (15-20, 5-13) on the road and Auburn (25-16, 7-11) at home. That should provide an opportunity for USC to keep its momentum going before it ends the conference season at No. 2 Texas A&M (35-5, 12-5) and No. 1 LSU (34-6, 12-5) at home.

Aaron Fitt, the national writer for D1Baseball.com, points out that 14 conference wins, and sometimes 13, generally are good enough to make the NCAA tournament. He sees a path for the Gamecocks to get there after the two Vanderbilt wins .

The Gamecocks leave the comfort of Carolina Stadium, where they’re 21-7 this season, for a week on the road, where they’re 3-9 on the year, against Furman at Fluor Field on Tuesday and Tennessee on the weekend.

Despite the disastrous weekend series against Florida, where USC was swept two weeks ago, Holbrook believes there are times a team can come together on the road.

“I’ve been on some teams that really locked arms when things got tough,” he said. “We’re going to have to band together as we go on the road.”

The Gamecocks still have hurdles to face, especially after losing top right-hander Wil Crowe to an injury elbow for the season and shortstop Marcus Mooney to a hamstring injury for three to four weeks.

But after the Vanderbilt series, Holbrook sees potential for this team to keep playing once the regular season ends.

“There are lots of great teams on the schedule, so we’re going to have to continue like this to have a chance,” he said.

USC (25-16) VS. FURMAN (18-20)

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: Fluor Field, Greenville

RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5 FM

ONLINE: Live streaming at FurmanPaladins.com

SERIES: USC leads 112-54-2

LAST MEETING: The Gamecocks defeated the Paladins 5-2 earlier this season

PITCHING MATCHUPS: USC RHP Reed Scott, So., 1-1, 2.51 ERA vs. Furman RHP Matthew Quarles, So., 3-1, 6.15 ERA

NOTES: The Gamecocks have posted a 10-3 record at Fluor Field in the ballpark’s 10-year history. ... USC has won 15 of 18 games against Furman over the past 10 seasons. ... OF Elliott Caldwell has tied the program’s single-season record for triples with six. Current coach Brian Buscher also had six in 2002, while Jake Williams did the same in 2011.

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