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Weekend Preview: Gamecocks Travel to Arkansas for Most Important Series to Date

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This weekend the Gamecocks (38-11, 17-7 SEC) make the trek to Fayetteville for what is by far the most important series of the season. Ray Tanner's squad is coming off two mid-week games in which they beat Wofford 17-4 and Charleston Southern 10-2. Confidence is running a little higher since Sunday's embarrassing 9-3 loss to Kentucky. Tanner felt that his batters were being a little hesitant at the plate and urged them to be more aggressive during the week. Coach Tanner had this to say after the Charleston Southern victory:

"We tried to be a little bit more aggressive coming out. Not to take away any pitching that we saw the past couple of days, and we needed to be more aggressive and we got our share of hits. We really looked good early tonight. The good thing the past couple of days is that we got some guys some work on the mound, we didn't have to overuse anybody and we got a couple of guys out of the game. We got Whit [Merrifield] out tonight and gave him a little rest. We had [Scott] Wingo out, we put him back in there, but we had him out just to rest him a little bit."

It will be interesting to see how our starting lineups shake out this weekend as well. Tanner has done his best to give everyone playing time this year, but he showed that he might be willing to replace Bobby Haney as a starter on Tuesday when he pinch hit Nick Ebert for him in the 6th. Scott Wingo subsequently took over for Haney at short stop and the Gamecocks roared to 17-4 win. Haney was back at in the lineup on Wednesday, going 1-2 with his second home run of the year and two bases on balls. We'll see how he does on Friday, but I'm not convinced that a good night against Charleston Southern warrants a starting position this late in the season. At this point, we know what Haney can do.

As for Arkansas (38-11, 16-8 SEC), they're currently trailing only Auburn in batting average (although, be it by .030) at .322 and the hogs' team ERA sits just behind the Gamecocks' at 3.85 (South Carolina's is 3.74). This is a quality team that has had some mixed results coming down the stretch. Of their last 3 SEC series, they lost to Florida (1-2), lost to Auburn (1-2), and beat Ole Miss (2-1). Auburn and Ole Miss both look like they are headed to Hoover at this point, and Florida might just be playing the best baseball in the country right now. Taking the series this weekend will be a tall order.

Add that to the fact that Arkansas is one of only two SEC schools that holds a winning record against us in baseball (the other being LSU), and this series suddenly carries levity which we have not seen in the weekends before. The Razorbacks lead the all-time series 29-19, and South Carolina hasn't won in Fayetteville since 2004. We'll need great performances out of Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson, as well as some "timely" hitting if we would like our SEC championship hopes to remain in tact after Sunday.

Speaking of which, there is also the regular season title to think about here. Arkansas certainly isn't out of it at this point, but at one game back with 3 games left to play versus South Carolina and Vanderbilt each, their schedule isn't exactly forgiving. After all, Florida (34-12, 17-7 SEC) gets to play UGA this weekend before traveling to Columbia to finish up their season. The games against the Dawgs are an almost certain sweep, so they will probably have a one-game lead in the division before the trip to Columbia. The best the Gamecocks can reasonably hope for is to take 2 of 3 from Arkansas this weekend. If that scenario plays out, the 'Cocks would need to take at least 2 games from Florida to claim the SEC regular season title. As I've noted in earlier posts, the tie breaker should go to the team that wins the series, but I don't have any concrete evidence of that right now.

So the jist of it is, if the Gamecocks want to bring home the SEC championshipthey need to win each of the remaining two series. That's not asking much, right?

Go 'Cocks!