South Carolina lost their first game of the SEC Tournament to Ole Miss on Wednesday to fall to 42-14 on the season. The ugly blowout at the hands of the Rebels sent the Gamecocks down to the losers bracket, where they face the Texas A&M Aggies this morning in an elimination game.
Avoiding going 0-2 in Hoover won't be easy for the Gamecocks, as they have to get past an Aggie team that is the #3 seed in the tournament and ranked as high as #1 in the country. South Carolina played Texas A&M in a regular season series in Columbia not quite two weeks ago and managed to win just one game in three. The Gamecocks will try to make the most of their second chance against the Aggies, who are in this morning's elimination game after losing to Vanderbilt yesterday.
The Gamecocks will start freshman RHP Braden Webb against the Aggies. Webb has a 3.33 ERA with 109 strikeouts and 42 walks on the year. Like Clarke Schmidt yesterday, Webb is starting on shorter rest than he's accustomed to for the second week in a row.
The Aggies will start sophomore RHP Brigham Hill. His ERA is 2.04 with 79 strikeouts and 17 walks. Hill pitched against the Gamecocks in the first game of their regular season series and threw 6 scoreless innings.
3 Keys to a South Carolina Win
Play defense: This is something that hasn't really been a concern for Carolina for most of the season. Prior to Wednesday, the Gamecocks only had one game with more than 2 errors and they only had 40 total errors for the season. But against the Rebels on Wednesday the Gamecocks had an uncharacteristically bad defensive performance, committing 5 (!) errors and dropping their overall fielding percentage from .980 to .978. Maybe it was just a weird anomaly or maybe it was caused by whatever curse afflicts South Carolina in Hoover, but the Gamecocks can't let it happen again.
Start strong: The Gamecocks are 32-4 when they score first, but 10-10 when their opponent scores first. Playing from behind just makes everything harder and the Gamecocks need to avoid getting in an early hole like they did against the Rebels on Wednesday. That means that Carolina needs Webb to come out strong and avoid letting the Aggies take control of the game from the start, and that the Carolina hitters need to jump on the A&M pitchers early so that Webb has a lead to work with.
Bring base runners home: The offense will need a strong showing to beat the Aggies, who have a potent offense of their own. More specifically, Carolina has to capitalize on their chances to score. The offense wasn't really the problem for Carolina on Wednesday, but the Gamecocks did strand 10 runners over the course of the game, 5 of them in scoring position. The Gamecocks will need to take advantage of every opportunity that they get to score on the Aggies because it won't be an easy task to keep up with or surpass A&M's talented lineup.