FIRST BASE // 03.17.09

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And suddenly it seems like a rebuilding year again.

It's easy to overreact to the first conference series of the season -- after all, the Gamecocks won two of the first three in last year's initial SEC effort and ended up with a short trip to the NCAA tournament.

So what happened in Starkville -- a 1-2 weekend, with the one win coming in a seven-inning game -- isn't the end of the world. But it's still troubling, particularly when you throw in the midweek loss to Wofford. This is the kind of thing that you would actually expect more from a rebuilding year than from a "reloading" season.

Most of blame should probably go to the pitching staff. Sure, the team only scored three runs in the second game -- but they would have needed to score 11 to win in any case. And the Gamecocks produced eight runs against Wofford -- who scored 16.

South Carolina has gone from having one of the best ERAs in the SEC to start the season to ranking 10th in the league with a 5.08 ERA. And it's not contact that's defeating the Gamecocks -- opponents are batting .241 against South Carolina pitchers, which trails SEC-best Georgia by just four points. (Not that any of that will be helped by the loss of Curtis Johnson.)

Instead, it's the walks -- 71 issued so far, nearly twice as many as LSU and Arkansas (40), despite pitching seven fewer innings than the Razorbacks and 18 fewer than the Bengals. South Carolina pitchers walked 19 men in the three straight losses to Wofford and Mississippi State. Allowing 14 home runs so far this season doesn't help -- but you can deal with solo home runs. It's putting runners on base that catches up to.

The good news in all that, of course, is that the problem is fixable: Throw strikes instead of  balls. The bad news is that if the pitching staff doesn't learn to do that, it could be a long season.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK
NICK EBERT, who batted .556 (10-for-18), hit three home runs and had nine RBIs on the week. Ebert has a .471 average for the season -- best on the team -- and a 1.651 OPS. He's also on a seven-game hitting streak.

STAT OF THE WEEK
9-0
The Gamecocks' record in games in which they lead going into the ninth, despite being outscored 13-9 in the final frame.

THE SLATE
Tuesday: vs. Davidson, 7 p.m. ET
Wednesday: at Furman (Flour Field, Greenville), 7 p.m. ET
Weekend: vs. LSU, 7 p.m. ET; 4 p.m. ET Saturday; 1 p.m. ET Sunday (SportSouth)

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