After missing the tournament entirely last season the Gamecocks have returned to form and are hosting a regional for the 5th time in 6 years. Carolina is the #1 seed and will face the 4th-seeded Rhode Island Rams on Friday night in the second game of the Columbia Regional.
The Gamecocks finished the regular season 42-13 (20-9 SEC) and then, in keeping with tradition, went 0-2 in the SEC Tournament to fall to 42-15 overall. That poor showing probably cost the Gamecocks a national seed, but if the Gamecocks want to be successful this weekend they'll have to put that disappointment behind them. The good news is that the Gamecocks have a history of bouncing back in the NCAA Tournament and tend to play very well in the postseason in Columbia. Carolina is 18-2 in postseason games in Founders Park, with both losses coming against Maryland in the 2014 Regional. The Gamecocks have been a tough team to beat at home this season and come into the weekend with a 30-4 record at Founders Park.
The Gamecock offense has been up and down, but it's very effective when everyone is hitting their best. Gene Cone has been the most consistent, and often the best, part of the Gamecock offense this season and at .356/.468/.489 he leads the team in batting average. Alex Destino (.322/.369/.500) leads Carolina in RBI with 52 for the season and he leads the team in home runs as well with 8. Dom Thompson-Williams (.329/.430/.529) and John Jones (.272/.379/.426) each have 7 homers on the year. Several Carolina players have been in and out of the lineup as offensive slumps and inconsistency at the plate have plagued the team, but when everyone is on at the same time the Gamecocks are very good. The Gamecocks will need everyone to step up and play their best in the postseason, especially because the lineup for this weekend is uncertain as both Jonah Bride (back) and DC Arendas (finger) are injured and it is unclear whether either of them will be able to play.
The clear strength of this Gamecock team has been the pitching and defense. South Carolina's .978 fielding percentage is among the best in the country and the defense has only had a couple of bad games this season. The weekend pitching rotation of Clarke Schmidt (2.96 ERA), Braden Webb (3.39 ERA) and Adam Hill (3.64) is fantastic. With Josh Reagan and Tyler Johnson the Gamecocks have two players that have proven to be effective closers, and the emergence of Reed Scott as a reliable option out of the bullpen has been key for the team as well. Carolina has relied mainly on those six players, along with Taylor Widener, to get things done on the mound this season. While the Gamecocks have plenty of talented arms in the bullpen, most of them haven't been very consistent. Carolina will need strong performances from their starters and their usual relief pitchers in order to stay in the winners bracket and avoid having to stretch the pitching depth.
The biggest question for South Carolina is whether or not they can recover from a disheartening performance in Hoover and play their highest level of baseball for the most important part of the season. If this Gamecock team can play to their potential, they have the talent and all the pieces to advance to a Super Regional and have a shot at making it back to Omaha.