Weekend Preview: Gamecocks Travel to Myrtle Beach

Our pitching might not be the advantage we thought it was. These guys are good. (via farm4.static.flickr.com)

This is it Gamecock fans. This weekend our South Carolina Gamecocks (46-15) travel to Myrtle Beach to take on the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (55-8). While I may have reservations about giving Coastal a national seed, I have never doubted for an instant the Chanticleers' ability to defeat us this weekend.

The Chanticleers sport a .326 team average with 107 home runs and a .973 on base plus slugging percentage. That stat line matches up favorably with South Carolina's .302 average, 89 home runs, and .890 on base plus slugging percentage. The Chants are led by Tommy LaStella, a redshirt sophomore who is hitting .375 with 14 home runs and a .625 slg.%. Rico Noel is probably their second-best hacker. Noel, who was drafted in the 5th round by the San Diego Padres, is hitting .348 with 11 hr and a .464 ob%.

Meanwhile, Jackie Bradley, Jr. is probably the closest thing USC has to a hitter as reliable as those two. Jackie is hitting .367 with 11 hr. Whit Merrifield has dropped off quite a bit since his hit streak to begin the season. Whit is hitting .332 with 12 hr. I would be remiss if I didn't mention freshman Evan Marzilli. Marzilli is hitting .397 but with just 58 plate appearances. That's roughly 1/4 of what he would have had he been starting all year, so that average is probably a little bit inflated.

Both teams have similar fielding percentages as well. South Carolina is fielding .974 with just 60 errors on the year while Coastal is fielding .970 with 72 errors. I would not be surprised at all if this series were so close that 1 error could mean the difference between going to Omaha and staying home. We've seen in the past that both Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson are capable of pitching complete games while giving up 3 or fewer runs. If Carolina is having trouble getting their bats going, and I'm willing to bet they will more than they won't, we'll have to be perfect on defense to come out on top.

More after the jump.

Coastal Carolina's pitching statistics are right in line with USC's. Junior Cody Wheeler was also drafted in the 5th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Wheeler is 12-0 on the year with a 3.59 ERA. The Chants' ace, though, is sophomore Anthony Meo. Meo is 13-2 with a 2.63 ERA. Together they make up a 1-2 punch similar to our Cooper/ Dyson combination. After that RS junior LHP Jim Birmingham has the most starts at 12. his record is 6-2 with a 4.82 ERA. If the series goes all the way to Monday this may be an advantage we can exploit. Our third starter, Jay Brown, holds a 4.44 ERA and a 3-0 record. Don't pay much attention to that 3-0 record, though, as Brown hasn't pitched the 5 innings required to record a win in quite some time. Coastal's bullpen has been strong all year as well. RS senior Austin Fleet leads the team in saves (8), has a 2.53 ERA, and has struck out 54 batters in 57 innings. In fact, the entire Coastal Carolina team has a stout K/9 ratio of 8.22.

Meanwhile South Carolina outpaces Coastal by nearly a strike with a K/9 ratio of 9.08. The Gamecocks also edge the Chanticleers in the BB/9 ratio with 3.23 compared with Coastal's 3.43. But the Gamecocks' real advantage in pitching, if there is one, may their .229 batting average against compared with Coastal's .246. Those 16 points may not seem like much, but they'll help even out the disparity in the two teams' batting averages.

I happen to think these two teams are pretty evenly matched, but I don't think the rest of the country would agree. CCU is ranked 3rd, 4th, 4th, and 5th in the NCBWA, USA Today, Collegiate Baseball, and Baseball America polls, respectively. South Carolina, on the other hand, ranks 13th, 11th, 9th and 12th in those same publications.

I do think the fact that South Carolina has played a much tougher schedule keeps his series intriguing. Because the two teams played such different competition for the majority of their schedules, it's impossible to get an accurate read on who will advance to Omaha. It all depends on whether USC's bats show up on Saturday. If Scott Wingo can break out of his slump and Bobby Haney can continue to contribute, I think we have a very good chance. 

Dates and Times:

Saturday 6/12 - 12:00 pm, ESPNU

Sunday   6/13 - 1:00 pm, ESPN

Monday   6/14 - 1:00 pm or 7:00 pm, ESPN2 (only if needed)

Go 'Cocks!

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