Weekend Wrap-up: Florida Takes Series and Where We Go from Here

If I had told you before the weekend that Bobby Haney would hit .545 over the 3 games, would you have predicted this outcome? (via blogs.orlandosentinel.com)


Ouch. That hurt. As I am sure you all know by now, the Gamecocks lost consecutive games to Florida this weekend by scores of 3-2 and 5-2 before salvaging a modicum of dignity on Saturday by winning 11-6.

Thursday's game was every bit the pitcher's duel it was supposed to be as Blake Cooper allowed just 3 runs on 9 hits in 6.2 innings. Cooper's effort was all for  naught, however, since the Gamecock batters could only muster 2 runs on the evening despite matching Florida's hit total of 9. The Gamecocks had multiple opportunities to score on Thursday night, but couldn't capitalize. Twice USC left the bases loaded. One of those times helped USC chase Florida starter Alex Panteliodis in the 4th inning after a 40-pitch 3rd inning. The result was a night in which the Gamecocks left 8 runners on base. Cooper also wasn't aided by an ill-fated decision to hit-and-run in the 7th inning. Tanner put the sign on only to have Florida pitch out. Merrifield was caught stealing at 2nd while Christian Walker had to swing at a junk pitch. On a night when lead-off runners were hard to come by, a botched hit-and-run sure was a great way to squander an opportunity. Cooper dropped to 10-1 on the season while Florida reliever, Jeff Barfield, improved to 4-0. Barfield pitched 2.2 innings, gave up 1 earned run, and struck out 4.

Friday's game was a bit more of a heart breaker, however, since USC led for much of the game. Starter Sam Dyson pitched well - giving up 4 runs over 6.2 innings and striking out 7. His only real mistake of the night came on a fielding error in which Dyson tried to get the lead runner out at second base on a bunt, but the throw was not in time. The result was an extra out for Florida, and the Gators made him pay later in the inning. Even so, those two runs wouldn't have mattered much considering USC only managed to score 2 runs for the second night in a row. Whit Merrifield and Scott Wingo, usually this team's most reliable batters, were a combined 0-8 with 0 walks and 0 RBIs. Even more perplexing was Tanner's decision to pinch hit Parker Bangs for Brady Thomas in the 8th inning with a man on first. Thomas had been 3-3 on the night. Bangs, who struggled as designated hitter on Thursday, grounded out to second base. Tanner then pinch hit Robert Beary for Bobby Haney. That decision didn't work out either, and given that Haney had been 2-6 so far on the weekend, it may deserve some scrutiny as well.

More after the jump.

Games 1 & 2
  At-Bats Hits RBI Walks AVG.
Adam Mathews (LF) 7 5 1 1 0.714
Adrian Morales (3B) 8 0 0 0 0.000
Bobby Haney (SS) 6 2 2 0 0.333
Brady Thomas (C.) 3 3 0 0 1.000
Christian Walker (1B) 9 2 0 0 0.222
Evan Marzilli (OF) 1 0 0 0 0.000
JBJ (CF) 8 3 0 1 0.375
Jeffrey Jones (1B) 4 1 1 0 0.250
Kyle Enders (C.) 4 1 0 0 0.250
Nick Ebert (1B) 2 0 0 0 0.000
Parker Bangs (DH) 3 0 0 0 0.000
Scott Wingo (2B) 7 1 0 0 0.143
Whit Merrifield (RF) 9 1 0 1 0.111
Total: 71 19 4 3 0.268

 

What jumps out at you here? Adam Mathews' .714 average? Thought so.

 

Clearly, USC hitters as a whole didn't perform up to their potential during the first two games. There were a few bright spots, though. Brady Thomas has probably cemented his position on the team as the better hitting catcher, while Kyle Enders should not be overlooked as a viable 2nd option. Indeed, Enders made some great plays behind the plate that showcased his defensive ability. Frankly, I'd feel feel comfortable with either of those guys behind the plate. The greatest surprise of the first two games had to belong to Adam Mathews, though. Mathews seems like he might be on his way to becoming a star in a Gamecock uniform. He's been really coming into his own lately, and the kid has speed to burn.

Mathews' foil for the first two games had to be Adrian Morales, who went hitless in 8 at-bats. His average has now dropped to just .280 after starting the season as one of our better hitters. We're also going to need better production out of our plethora of first basemen. The lone bright spot was Jeffrey Jones' pinch hit home run in the first game. Justifiably, Tanner gave Jones the start in game 2, but Jones followed up his home run by going 0-3. As a group our first basemen went 3-15 (.200) in the first two games. One would expect to see some regression to the mean in the next few games since our talent at the corners has proven to be much better than .130 hitters, even against great pitching.

Game 3 saw Carolina claim a 11-6 victory over the Gators. The win rang somewhat hollow since Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan took the opportunity to rest his starters. Six reserves took the place of regulars in the Gators' starting lineup and normal Sunday starter Brian Johnson was replaced after just one inning of work. Before exiting Johnson allowed a solo home run to USC's red-hot Adam Mathews. Overall the Gamecocks capitalized on the opportunity. The game may or may not have had any meaning for a Florida team who had already clinched the SEC regular season title, but those caveats don't show up in the record books. If anything, the game showcased Florida's incredible depth and gave us a preview next year's squad. All the same, a win is a win is a win is a win. Saturday's game buoyed Carolina's stats on the weekend. 

All Games Combined
  At-Bats Hits RBI Walks AVG.
Adam Mathews (LF) 12 8 3 1 0.667
Adrian Morales (3B) 11 1 0 0 0.091
Bobby Haney (SS) 11 6 2 0 0.545
Brady Thomas (C.) 3 3 0 0 1.000
Christian Walker (1B) 14 4 0 0 0.286
Evan Marzilli (OF) 1 0 0 0 0.000
JBJ (CF) 12 5 4 1 0.417
Jeffrey Jones (1B) 4 1 1 0 0.250
Kyle Enders (C.) 8 1 0 0 0.125
Nick Ebert (1B) 5 1 2 0 0.200
Parker Bangs (DH) 5 0 0 0 0.000
Scott Wingo (2B) 9 2 0 1 0.222
Whit Merrifield (RF) 14 3 2 1 0.214
Total: 109 35 14 4 0.321

 

What jumps out at you now? Bobby Haney's .545 average? Thought so.

As you can see, Saturday's game improved Carolina's average on the weekend from .268 to .321. That's a substantial leap. Can some of that improvement be chalked up to Florida's use of some relievers that don't normally see playing time? Absolutely. But then again, those players are still scholarship athletes on one of the best teams in the country. Don't think for a minute that those guys didn't want to win that game.

So what can we take from this series? I think it's fairly obvious that Florida is one of the best teams in the country. With the series win they surely locked up a top-8 national seed. What remains to be seen is if South Carolina can garner one as well. It is my personal belief that USC will be on the outside looking in that regard unless it can win the SEC tournament. Because of our early series losses to Clemson and ECU, which has fallen off the map, it would be hard for the selection committee to make that pick unless we can prove that we are the real deal. The Arkansas series helped make that case, but with only 8 slots to fill, one sweep does not a top-8 seed make.

As mentioned earlier, our production from the corner spots this weekend was abysmal. As much as I hate to say it, I think Nick Ebert's play this year has relegated him to pinch hitting duty. Christian Walker has probably been our most reliable 1B, so I would really like to see him get the starts from here on out. Jeffery Jones has been no slouch, but he has been ineffective at best against left handed pitchers. I think he, Ebert, and Bangs should all be in rotation for the DH spot depending on the situation, but I would rank them in that order.

I have no doubt that Merrifield and Morales will bounce back from this weekend's performance. They are too good of players not to have redeeming series this week. I'd also like to see Scott Wingo be a little more judicious in his pitch selection. He only had 1 walk this weekend to go with his 1 hit. Granted, the Florida staff doesn't issue a lot of bases on balls, but Wingo is a guy you expect to get on base more often than not because of his keen eye. If this team is going to put it all together in the post season, we're going to need Wingo to be the type of player he was mid-season. For a few weeks now, his average has been steadily declining. Top to bottom, this team is going to need to hit at least .300 if want to make it to the College World Series.

I also think some hat tips are in order for Bobby Haney and Ray Tanner. In the most important series this season Haney batted .545 with 2 RBIs. Perhaps we are seeing Haney finally break out of his season-long slump. He's been swinging a hot bat for a little over a week now. If he can continue the trend, he instantly makes this team a much tougher opponent. Ray Tanner also deserves some praise for sticking with the senior shortstop through the slump. Tanner is a great coach, and although it may seem like I only highlight his affinity for the bunt on this blog, I think the world of him. It is easy to take for granted the fact that USC fans can count on a 40-win season every year from their baseball team. Make no mistake, that takes a lot of hard work and coaching acumen. Tanner know his players, and he knows baseball. He's gotten us to the post season something like 11 times in a row. Maybe this year Lady Luck, patron saint of baseball, will again do her part in helping us reach the CWS.

One final note. I will be traveling quite a bit beginning this Wednesday. Baseball posts from yours truly may become sporadic, but rest assured that somewhere in the lower 48 I will be living and dieing with every pitch along with you when internet access permits. I'll do my best to check in when I can and provide some insight, but that probably won't be as often as I would like. In the mean time, you can always look to Leftover Hot Dog for some of the best Gamecock baseball coverage this side of the press box. This week they put out the 3rd volume of their Gamecock Podcast in which our very own Gamecock Man makes a guest appearance. I think they will also have some break downs of our SEC tournament opponents this week, which I will not be able to do. Have a great week, Gamecock fans, and bring home some wins for me!

Go 'Cocks!

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