The Gamecocks are in a much better place entering this weekend than they were going into last weekend's series. After winning the series at Auburn last weekend and taking care of business against Davidson and USC Upstate earlier in the week to extend their winning streak to four games, the Gamecocks are ready for a matchup with one of the best teams in the SEC. Both South Carolina and Alabama have a wide range of rankings in the polls, but the Gamecocks are 5th in the RPI rankings and Alabama is 17th. Carolina leads the all-time series with the Tide 29-25 and has won the last 3 series between the two teams, including a sweep in Columbia in 2012.
In completely non-surprising news, the SEC continues to be an insanely deep league this season. There are seven SEC teams in the top 25 of the RPI rankings and both Baseball America and Perfect Game are projecting the SEC to send 10 teams to the postseason. Though there still isn't a huge gap between most teams in terms of wins and losses, the contenders in each division have emerged more fully. In the East, the Gators (12-6) have a two-game lead over the Gamecocks (10-8). They are followed by Kentucky (9-9), Vandy (8-10), Georgia (7-10), Tennessee (7-11) and Missouri (6-12). Alabama (12-6) leads the West followed by LSU (10-7), with Ole Miss and Mississippi State both at 10-8. Then come Arkansas (9-9), Texas A&M (8-10) and finally Auburn (7-11).
Alabama is 28-13 and enters the weekend on a two-game losing streak after dropping their final game of the Tennessee series and losing a Tuesday night game to Southern Mississippi. Alabama's only SEC series loss so far was at Arkansas. The Tide swept Ole Miss and has beaten Kentucky, Texas A&M, Auburn, and Tennessee. Alabama is the only team in the SEC that has only one series loss in conference play.
South Carolina and Alabama are remarkably evenly-matched on paper, and Coach Holbrook pointed out on Thursday how similar the stats are for the two teams. Both teams are hitting .283 overall, though Alabama is hitting .271 in SEC play and Carolina is hitting .259. The runs scored, total hits, and RBI for each team all have a difference of just ten or less. The Gamecocks have an on-base percentage of .357 and a slugging percentage of .382. The Tide has an on-base percentage of .355 and slugging percentage of .398. The most noticeable difference in the offensive stats for the two teams is that Alabama has had twice as many hit by pitch as the Gamecocks. In fielding, the Gamecocks are .974 and the Tide is .972. The Gamecocks have moved back up to 2nd in the country in ERA at 2.00, while the Tide's ERA of 2.66 is 20th. Opponents are hitting .218 against the Gamecocks and .209 against the Tide.
South Carolina's Friday night starter, Jordan Montgomery, now has an ERA of 3.62 and a team-leading 59 strikeouts and 21 walks. Alabama's Friday night starter, junior right-hander Spencer Turnbull, has a 2.14 ERA with 48 strikeouts and 28 walks. On Saturday sophomore lefty Jack Wynkoop will take the mound for the Gamecocks. He has an ERA of 2.07 and his 45 strikeouts and 8 walks give him a strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.62) that is the best among the Carolina starters. Starting opposite Wynkoop will be junior left-hander Justin Kamplain. He has a 3.54 ERA with 53 strikeouts and 20 walks. Freshman right-hander Wil Crowe will start for the Gamecocks on Sunday and has an ERA of 2.37 with 39 strikeouts and 12 walks. Alabama's regular Sunday starter, Jon Keller, is suspended this weekend for a violation of team rules. A new pitcher has not been announced yet, but Alabama will certainly miss Keller, who had a 1.93 ERA.
The Gamecocks are still pretty banged up as far as injuries go, but are pushing through it. The Gamecocks got a scare on Wednesday night when Grayson Greiner slid headfirst into a player's leg at third base and was slow to get up, but both of his concussion tests turned out okay and he will play this weekend. Pankake (hamstring) has been playing and said on Wednesday that he's close to being 100 percent. Connor Bright (elbow) is expected to play in some capacity this weekend. Elliot Caldwell (back) is day to day and Max Schrock (back) is feeling a little better, but neither is expected to play this weekend. Holbrook said that he would like to be surprised, but he just doesn't see them participating this week. Vince Fiori is still out this weekend.
Game 1, Friday
Start time: 7 p.m.
Game 2, Saturday
Start time: 2 p.m.
Game 3, Sunday
Start time: 1 p.m.
All three games will be available on the radio at 107.5 The Game