Neil White

Gamecocks’ offense finds sweet spot against Texas A&M

South Carolina infielder Marcus Mooney (8)
South Carolina infielder Marcus Mooney (8) jblake@thestate.com

THERE’S NO SIMPLE explanation for what can occur on any given weekend in baseball.

How do you explain a team that’s hitting .251 – one that has struggled to score runs all season – exploding for 31 runs on 41 hits for a .350 average in three games against the No. 3 team in the nation with a 2.74 ERA?

That’s what the Gamecocks did in College Station, Texas, against Texas A&M to win twice and come within three outs of pulling off an incredible sweep.

Maybe USC coach Chad Holbrook can explain it.

“We had great plate approaches, and we swung the bats very aggressively in the strike zone for the most part. We had some fun playing, we were relaxed,” Holbrook said. “This season we’ve been very inconsistent, but this weekend we were very, very solid in all three games. To be honest, the park and the wind and the conditions were very favorable to the hitters. But the difference in the output probably was everybody in the lineup contributing one through nine.”

The bottom of the batting order, indeed, played a huge role in the outburst, especially junior shortstop Marcus Mooney, who claimed SEC player of the week honors Monday. How do you explain Mooney, who was coming off a hamstring injury and hitting .160 on the season, busting out with seven hits in 10 at-bats to go with three walks, two doubles, his first home run and five RBIs?

“I always thought Marcus was a darn good hitter and a tough out. I think he just relaxed and played this weekend,” Holbrook said. “He was very determined to play, and he did at a time we needed it the most. He’s not a .160 hitter. I don’t think that for a minute. He put some good swings on it, he got hot, and his confidence soared.”

Finally, how do you explain a team that lost series to the three worst teams in the SEC – Georgia, Mississippi State and Tennessee – and won series against two of the best in Vanderbilt and Texas A&M?

“The league is very balanced, and it has been for years. Anything can happen on any weekend. The teams fighting it out at the bottom are still quality teams,” Holbrook said. “When we played those guys, maybe we weren’t playing our best baseball. Maybe we were psychologically more fragile than we are right now. A lot of factors play into it. Baseball’s a crazy game.”

USC’s 3-1 record last week was the team’s first winning week since mid-March. After suffering through a rough stretch that produced 10 wins in 28 games, the Gamecocks (30-22, 12-15 SEC) have managed to breathe life back into their NCAA tournament hopes. They have clinched a berth in the 12-team SEC tournament as they face No. 1 LSU (43-8, 19-7) in this final weekend of the regular season.

If they can win the series against the Tigers, that would be something the NCAA selection committee would have to consider, especially if they also can win a game or two in the SEC tournament. But the Gamecocks will have to replicate what they did against the Aggies.

“It should give us a lot of confidence, because our players walked off that field knowing they beat one of the best teams in college baseball on the road,” Holbrook said. “We went toe-to-toe with them, so our players should feel good.”

He said the team has meaningful games ahead, a possibility that didn’t seem likely after losing weekends against Tennessee and Auburn.

“At the end of 56 (regular-season games) and the conference tournament, I’m hopeful we’ll be in the (NCAA) conversation and continue to play,” he said. “If we play like we played this weekend (against Texas A&M), I like our chances of being in that conversation.”

OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION

South Carolina had a huge offensive weekend at Texas A&M. A look at the numbers:

.350: Team batting average (41-for-117) with 31 runs scored, an on-base percentage of .430 with seven doubles and seven homers.

.700: Marcus Mooney’s batting average (7-for-10), with three runs scored, two doubles, a home run, five RBI and three walks.

3: Homers hit by Kyle Martin, one in each game. His two-run homer in the ninth inning Friday lifted USC to a 9-7 victory.

.467: Max Schrock’s average during the weekend (7-for-15) with five runs scored and a pair of RBI.

USC UPSTATE (15-34) at USC (30-22)

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: Carolina Stadium

RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5 FM

ONLINE: SEC Network Plus

SERIES: USC leads 8-0. In their meeting last season, the Gamecocks defeated the Spartans 6-1.

PITCHING MATCHUPS: USC RHP Canaan Cropper, Fr., 0-0, 2.25 ERA vs. USC Upstate RHP Eric Birklund, So., 1-3, 5.91 ERA

NOTES: The Gamecocks are 9-4 in midweek games. ... USC 1B Kyle Martin hit home runs in all three games and drove in seven runs against Texas A&M to push his season totals to a .349 BA, 14 HR and 56 RBIs. ... 2B Max Schrock (.317, 4 HR, 32 RBIs) had seven hits against the Aggies, while OF Elliott Caldwell (..352, 3 HR, 38 RBIs) had six. ... After allowing 29 runs on 38 hits over the weekend, the USC pitching staff saw its ERA jump to 4.08. ... The Gamecocks did not make an error against Texas A&M.

Neil White

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