South Carolina (34-11, 14-7) travels to Pig-ville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks (33-13, 11-10) this weekend. This is a big series for Carolina. The Gamecocks have won five straight SEC series and 11 straight games, and we are currently tied for first in the SEC, along with LSU and Kentucky. However, a lot of our success lately has come at the hands of average competition, with the sweep over Mississippi St. being the only series victory that looks particularly impressive in hindsight. A visit to Fayetteville is a task of a different order. The Hogs are a very solid team and are coming off a series victory in Gainesville. They're also typically a formidable team at home. Taking two of three this weekend would prove that the Gamecocks aren't just good; it would prove they're capable of another big post-season run.
Pitching-wise, here's what's in store:
South Carolina Michael Roth (Sr. LHP) 4-0, 2.57 ERA, 73.2 IP, 18 BB, 60 SO
Arkansas Ryne Stanek (So. RHP) 6-3, 2.52 ERA, 64.1 IP, 21 BB, 60 SO
South Carolina Jordan Montgomery (Fr. LHP) 4-0, 3.47 ERA, 46.2 IP, 6 BB, 35 SO
Arkansas Randall Fant (Jr. LHP) 2-2, 4.05 ERA, 33.1 IP, 5 BB, 27 SO
South Carolina TBA
Arkansas DJ Baxendale (Jr. RHP) 6-2, 3.47 ERA, 59.2 IP, 14 BB, 51 SO
The Friday night match-up should be an epic duel between two of the conference's best. Saturday night is more of a mixed bag. Arkansas's Fant has struggled at times this year. Montgomery, for his part, looked good for his first few starts, but he got hit hard against Alabama last weekend, although poor fielding didn't help him in that game. He needs to bounce back Saturday. Then, of course, the big question this weekend is Sunday. Colby Holmes is still out with a "burst vessel" (HT wilmywoodcock). Patrick Sullivan threw in his place last weekend, and while he didn't get roughed up, he wasn't pitching on Holmes's usual level. Sullivan may throw again, but Ray Tanner may also go to Nolan Belcher (pitching very well of late), Evan Beal (also getting better as the season progresses), Adam Westmoreland, or even Matt Price if he's fresh. Forrest Koumas is also available. Whatever the case may be, getting a good performance out of whoever we go to on Sunday is going to be instrumental this weekend.
Offensively, the Gamecocks need to continue doing what they've been doing in recent SEC series. Even if we're oftentimes facing one of the opponent's best pitchers, I continue to be a bit confused that we have such lackluster hitting in mid-week games. However, Carolina has hit the ball well in SEC play of late, with it being quite striking how guys like L.B. Dantzler who struggle in mid-week games get clutch and hit the ball all around the ballpark against our league foes. Christian Walker, whose presence was missed against Davidson, should be back, which will also help.
In sum, this series comes down to three things: Which team gets the clutch hits in a likely low-scoring Friday game? Can Montgomery get it back on track? Does the Sunday starter and a possible ensemble relief performance shut down the Hogs? If we can get two of those three, we should be able to take this series and solidify our standing as a top-five team.