The first opponent the Gamecocks will face in the Columbia Regional will be the 4th-seeded Rhode Island Rams. This is just the second time that Rhode Island has made it to the postseason and they're still looking for an NCAA Tournament win after going 0-2 in their 2005 appearance. The only previous meeting between the Gamecocks and Rhode Island was a Carolina win in 2011.
The Rams come into the Columbia Regional at 30-25 (18-6 Atlantic 10) and they got an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament after winning the Atlantic 10 conference tournament. Rhode Island had a spectacular year in conference play, winning seven conference series and losing only one. Things were a little rougher for them in non-conference play, as they opened the season with series losses to Florida State, Maryland, and Winthrop. They are currently on a six-game winning streak after sweeping La Salle in their final regular season series and sweeping their way through the Atlantic 10 Championship as they outscored their opponents by a total of 38-7 over three games.
The Rams are hitting .263 and have a .338 on-base percentage this year. The Rhode Island offense is led by Jordan Powell (.351/.407/.431) and Martin Figueroa (.335/.390/.542). Figueroa is coming off of a great weekend in the Atlantic 10 Championship in which he was the MVP after hitting .545 with 2 home runs and scoring more runs (11) than Rhode Island's opponents did all weekend. Figueroa leads the team with 7 home runs and Chris Hess (.301/.379/.530) is right behind him with 6.
Rhode Island's defense has not been great, as they are fielding just .965. The pitching staff has an ERA of 4.23 and a 2.24 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The Rams are expected to send their ace, Tyler Wilson to the mound against the Gamecocks on Friday night. Wilson, a sophomore left-hander, has a 2.08 ERA. He struck out 111 batters so far this season while walking 28 and opponents are hitting just .141 against him. While Wilson has easily been the most impressive pitcher on staff this season, the Rams have a few other guys with good numbers that won't be easy for opponents to hit.
This Rhode Island team is playing well right now and they've got enough dangerous players, both on the mound and at the plate, to make some noise in the Columbia Regional. Both the Gamecocks and the team that plays the Rams on the second day of the regional will need to avoid the trap of overlooking Rhode Island.
Rhode Island doesn't have an SB Nation site, but you can learn more about the Rams from their website, or check them out on Twitter and Facebook.