After falling to Clemson earlier in the year, I started to have my doubts about this team. Up until that weekend, they had beat up on inferior competition inside the friendly confines of Founder's Park. After a dominating performance against the Tigers on Friday night at home, they looked mostly flat and uninspired in the next two games in Greenville and Clemson, respectively. It was eerily similar to the baseball team last season: great performances in specific games, but mostly looking uninterested and apathetic. After that series, Chad Holbrook talked about how they are going to change their approach to the plate. It's paid dividends since then, and the Gamecocks continued to crush the ball against the Arkansas Razorbacks. But it wasn't just the bats that showed up, it took a full team effort to sweep a very good Razorbacks ball club.
God's Gonna Cut You Down: Well, not literally (at least I hope not). But, if you're an opposing pitcher facing John Jones, then I guess the metaphor works. "God's Gonna Cut You Down" is Jones' walkup song, and boy is it working. John Jones hit .500 from the plate this weekend with a several of big time hits (find the go ahead homerun yesterday here). Simply put, John Jones is a bad, bad dude. He is tied for the conference lead in homeruns with 6 and total bases with 57, is third in RBI's with 37, and leads the league in batting average hitting a crisp .422. So no, God is not going to cut you down. But John Jones might.
Kudos to the Pitching Staff: Arkansas is a very good hitting team. They came into the weekend as a team hitting .295/.402/.487 (Batting Average/On Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage). They are certainly no slouches at the plate, so you can't do anything but ask a pitching staff to contain them. Our pitching not only contained them, they shut them down for most of the game Friday, all day Saturday, and after the 4th inning Sunday. Clarke Schmidt threw another beauty Friday night, Braden Webb continues to improve and combined with Tyler Johnson to hold the Razorbacks to 2 runs Saturday, and despite Adam Hill getting roughed up Sunday, the bullpen held Arkansas in check and allowed the Gamecocks offense to do their thing. Aaron Fitt was at Founder's Park this weekend and had some high praise for the Gamecock pitchers.
Soph RHP Tyler Johnson showing electric stuff for @GamecockBasebll: 93-94 T95, got a K with a filthy 84 slider, another on a sweet 83 change— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) March 19, 2016
By the way, Josh Reagan continues to be untouchable at the back of the SC pen. Slightly built lefty pumps strikes at 86-88, superb changeup.— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) March 20, 2016
I don't know if this team has what it takes to get to Omaha, but having your pitching staff praised by a top notch analyst is a good start.
Win Anyway/Battle: This is one of those catchy cliches that had its birth during the back-to-back championship runs from 2010-2011. The 2013-2014 teams had all talent, and maybe more, than those championship teams, but lacked the mental toughness and heart that the 2010-11 squads had. Last year's team lacked both talent and heart. We know this team has the talent to make a run at the national title. Do they have the mental fortitude? Maybe. Maybe not. What we saw from them Sunday night is certainly indicative that they do. After getting down 6-1 early, the Gamecocks could have easily mailed it in and been satisfied with simply taking the 2-1 series win. But nope, they were going to have none of that. They slowly but surely made their way back into the game and eventually won it 8-6. These are the type of performances required of championship teams, and they can't just come once or twice a year. Is every comeback going to be completed? No. But there should not be a single game where the team simply mails it in and looks ahead to the next day. From what I can tell, the attitude since the Clemson series has changed, and it's impacting their performance on the field. Aaron Fitt agrees:
Wrote yesterday that this Gamecock team has its mojo back - and has a lot more talent than last year, too. Saw talent and heart today.— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) March 20, 2016
The Gamecocks have no midweek games this week as they hit the road start their weekend series a day early. First pitch against the Ole Miss Rebels is at 7:30 PM on Thursday night on SEC Network+.