Christian Walker had a series to forget in Oxford, Mississippi.
Over the weekend the South Carolina Gamecocks (37-10, 18-6 SEC) suffered their first series loss of the season at the hands of the Ole Miss Rebels (27-21, SEC 11-13). The Rebels are now in a three-way tie for third in the Western division. They trail trail Alabama and Arkansas, who are both 12-12 in league play. As for the Gamecocks, the (far from unanimous) #1 ranking did not last for long. USC fell to 4rd in two of the major polls and 4th in the other two. I expect a more precipitous drop when the new RPI number come out on Tuesday. The Gamecocks are a game behind Vanderbilt in league play and will need to play near-perfect baseball until Hoover in order to capture the regular season title. Florida remains tied with the Gamecocks at 18-6. The only good news is that one day soon Vanderbilt and Florida will have to play each other, and hopefully neither will sweep the other.
The Ole Miss series played out predictably at first. Michael Roth (10-1, 1.23 ERA) was magnificent once again in Friday's start. In 8.0 innings of work the Junior struck out 6, walked 1, and allowed just 1 run. John Taylor pitched a perfect 9th inning to secure a Carolina victory 6-1. Game 2 had a familiar hue for Gamecock fans as well.
As has been the case many a Saturday this Spring, the Gamecocks struggled to get hits and keep opposing runners off the base paths.After pounding out 14 hits in Friday's match, USC scraped together just 5 hits on Saturday. Worse yet, starter Colby Holmes (4-2, 4.31 ERA) lasted just 1.1 innings while allowing 3 runs. The Gamecocks would burn through 7 pitchers in total during the game. In my opinion, the turning point in the game came in the 7th inning. John Taylor was brought in to defuse a bad situation in which 1 run had already crossed the plate. After inducing a pop-up for the second out of the inning, John Taylor allowed a single and two more runs. At that point it was 7-1 in favor of Ole Miss, and I suspect that Ray thought he'd save Taylor for the rubber match on Sunday. Tanner pulled Taylor and the Gamecocks surrendered 3 more runs the next inning en route to a 10-2 loss.
The Gamecocks fared a little better in Sunday's contests. They actually out-hit the Rebels 11-9, but lost on a walk-off SAC fly by Mississippi's Preston Overbey. The game was a bit fluky given that every Gamecock batter notched a hit except for Christian Walker and Evan Marzilli. Even Steven Neff recorded 2 hits to bring his average up to .179 on the Season. Walker and Marzilli have been two of Carolina's hottest hitters lately. Marzilli was 4-7 in the previous two games while Walker's average is still a team-leading .372. Forrest Koumas continued to show signs of control issues. In 2.2 innings of work the young Koumas walked 3 batters and hit another.John Taylor appeared for the third time in as many days and allowed 1 earned run in 1.2 innings of work.saw his first action for series while closing out the last 3 innings for Carolina.
Carolina's pitching struggles on Saturday in particular - and to some extent, Sunday - are enough to make we wonder if Steven Neff has been keeping his arm fresh behind the scenes. Neither Colby Holmes (.242) nor Forrest Koumas (.222) have had stellar opposing batting averages all season, but I wonder if their arms are starting to tire given that this is the first year either have started in college. Before his injury Steven Neff was performing quite well as a #2 guy, so it will be interesting to see him Ray Tanner looks in that directions towards playoff time.
Not to say that USC is at all in a bad position. It would have been nice to continue our streak of winning series, but, as Florida and Vanderbilt helped us prove this weekend, sometimes baseball happens.The Gamecocks are still just 1 game behind Vanderbilt and they hold the tie-breaker with the Commodores. If Carolina regains it's composure there's no reason the Gamecocks can't be poised to win the regular season title before a trip to Hoover. The Commodores close out the season by playing Florida at home before traveling to Athens to take on Georgia. So there's still a lot of baseball left to play, folks. This week the Gamecocks begin a six game home stand by hosting the Presbyterian Blue Hose on Tuesday and the Charleston Southern Buccaneers. The Gamecocks lead the all-time series with the Blue Hose 41-19 and lead the all-time series with the Buccaneers 67-11. USC will host Arkansas this weekend.