No. 8 South Carolina vs. No. 9 Vanderbilt: Series preview, game times, TV info and more

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Gamecocks travel to Nashville for a high-stakes series against Vanderbilt to close out the regular season

After a satisfying win against The Citadel on Tuesday night, the Gamecocks will finish the regular season with a big series at Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks are ranked everywhere from 8th (ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll) to 17th (Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball). Vanderbilt has a similar range of rankings, from 9th (ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll) to 18th (Baseball America).  The Gamecocks lead the overall series with Vandy 49-26, but things have been far more competitive than that in recent years. South Carolina is 6-8 against the Commodores in the last four seasons. The Gamecocks have actually won the regular season series in each of those seasons except 2013, but Vanderbilt has won all three postseason meetings during that stretch.

The final weekend of SEC play will feature several good matchups and plenty of excitement, as there is a lot at stake for several teams. In the West, Ole Miss (17-10) leads, followed by Mississippi State (16-11), LSU (14-11), Alabama (14-12), Arkansas (13-14), Texas A&M (13-14) and Auburn (10-17).  In the East, the Gators (19-8) have a big lead over Vandy and South Carolina, who are tied for second at 16-11. They are followed by Kentucky (12-15), Tennessee (11-16), Georgia (10-16) and Missouri (6-21).

Team Speed Kills has an excellent breakdown of both the SEC divisional and tournament race and where things stand for each SEC team with the NCAA tournament, but the abbreviated version, at least as far as the Gamecocks are concerned, is pretty simple: this series at Vanderbilt is huge. Florida will clinch the East with one win against Tennessee, so barring a highly unlikely sweep by the Vols, Carolina and Vandy are playing for second in the East. That second place finish is important because of where it will leave each team in terms of the postseason. Most NCAA Tournament projections expect two national seeds from the SEC: Florida and either SC, Vandy or Ole Miss. Vanderbilt holds the upper hand in that race right now, but both Carolina and Ole Miss probably have an opportunity to change that with a series win this weekend and a strong showing at the SEC Tournament.  Getting seeded high enough for a first-round bye at the tournament would be helpful in making a good run through Hoover, and the winner of the South Carolina-Vanderbilt series has a shot at one of those top four spots.

Vanderbilt is 39-14 (16-11) and is 7th in the official NCAA RPI rankings. The Commodores are on a three-game winning streak entering the series. Last weekend the Commodores bounced back from a 1-0 loss in their first game against Florida to win the next two games, including 16-2 blowout win in the series finale. Their other SEC series wins are Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, and Missouri. The Commodores lost to Arkansas, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Texas A&M.  The Commodores are hitting .280 overall and have an on-base percentage of .367. Their ERA is 2.50 and opponents are hitting .197 against them.

South Carolina is 40-13 (16-11) and ranked 12th in the official NCAA RPI. The Gamecocks enter the weekend on a five-game win streak after a couple of big midweek wins and a sweep of Missouri. Though South Carolina's batting average of .283 and on-base percentage of .362 are holding steady, the offense has looked improved over the past week.  This is helped, of course, by the fact that the Gamecocks are nearly healthy again.  Elliott Caldwell (back) is still out for several more weeks, but both Bright and Schrock are expected to play this weekend. Naturally, South Carolina's pitching remains ridiculously good. The team ERA is now 1.99 with opponents hitting .218. The team strikeout-to-walk ratio, tied for 6th best in the country, is 3.00. Of the nine South Carolina pitchers that have thrown more than 20 innings this season, five still have an ERA under 1.00.  The Carolina bullpen's overall ERA is 1.02 and their ERA in conference play is just 0.91.

Both South Carolina and Vanderbilt have high-quality starting pitching rotations to take the mound this weekend. All three of Carolina's starters were great against Missouri last weekend, and the Gamecocks will need strong starts from all three again to have a shot at winning this series. Friday's starter will be junior left-hander Jordan Montgomery, who has an ERA of 3.21 with 77 strikeouts and 24 walks. Starting opposite him will be Vanderbilt's junior right-hander Tyler Beede. Beede has a 3.43 ERA with 82 strikeouts and 32 walks.  On Saturday, sophomore left-hander Jack Wynkoop will take the mound with an ERA of 2.16. His 54 strikeouts against only 10 walks give him a 5.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio, good for second on the team (Seddon's is 5.86). The Commodores will start sophomore right-hander Carson Fulmer on Saturday. Fulmer has a stellar 0.98 ERA with 62 strikeouts and 23 walks. Freshman right-hander Wil Crowe will start on Sunday. Crowe's ERA is 2.97 with 49 strikeouts and 19 walks. Crowe has had several rough starts lately, so it was especially nice to see him have a good game against Missouri (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1BB, 4 K).  Vanderbilt's Sunday starter will be sophomore right-hander Tyler Ferguson, who has a 2.66 ERA with 55 strikeouts and 22 walks.

Game 1, Thursday

Start time: 7:30 p.m.

TV: ESPNU

Game 2, Friday

Start time: 7:30 p.m.

Online: ESPN3

Game 3, Saturday

Start time: 3 p.m.

TV: CBS Sports Network

All games can also be heard on the radio at 107.5 The Game.

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