Two highly motivated teams should be on display at Carolina Stadium this weekend. South Carolina is coming off a humbling series sweep at the hands of Florida while Kentucky has lost six of its last eight games. Two teams with high expectations are in danger of falling short of regular season goals if they don’t find a way to get back into the SEC win column soon.
Senior Nolan Belcher will get the ball on Friday night in the series opener against Kentucky
The Gamecocks (28-10, 8-7) and Wildcats (24-12, 7-8) were both expected to challenge for the SEC Championship this season but two teams - LSU and Vanderbilt - are currently running away with the title. Both USC and UK were expected to challenge for national seeds, which are hopes that are beginning to drift at the midpoint of conference play. Both teams were almost certain to host a Regional, which are far from guaranteed right now.
Both teams are skidding at the moment but, for one team, the season will get back on track. South Carolina will sit with an above .500 conference record and hold serve at home or Kentucky will be back to at least .500 with a road series win.
On the other side of the coin, South Carolina will be .500 or below with a series loss with the toughest part of the schedule forthcoming while Kentucky would be simply spiraling out of control since the calendar turned to April.
“It’s two teams probably picked in the top 10 in most polls preseason trying to get off the mat, so to speak,” first-year head coach Chad Holbrook said. “I don’t think you’ll see on a baseball field anywhere across the country two more motivated teams than you will this weekend with Kentucky and South Carolina.”
In one breath, Holbrook said that the Wildcats - which were swept by LSU, lost two of three to Tennessee, and a midweek tilt to No. 8 Louisville - would be “hungry and highly motivated” for the games this weekend.
In the next breath, Holbrook was quick to say his team was the exact same way.
“We’re in that stretch of the season that we’re playing for a lot of the goals prior to where the season started. Each game, each pitch, each at-bat is magnified because of where we are in the year and what our record is and what we have left.”
Kentucky won all three games last season by a combined four runs. South Carolina swept the series the last time the two teams met in Columbia with the Gamecocks scoring six more runs than its opposition on the weekend.
It’s been a very competitive series over the last five years with the Gamecocks holding a narrow 8-7 edge in the win column.
“This will be a fun series to watch,” Holbrook said. “It will be two highly motivated teams and two very good teams. We’ll need to play the way we’re capable of playing to win the series.”
Game 1 of the series is Friday night at 7 p.m. with senior Nolan Belcher getting the ball on the mound for South Carolina. Saturday’s game will begin at 3 p.m. with television coverage on FoxSports. The finale is set for 1:30 p.m.
LHP Nolan Belcher - 5-3, 1.63 ERA, 66.1 IP, 5 BB, 55 K
LHP A.J. Reed - 2-4, 3.02 ERA, 53.2 IP, 12 BB, 39 K
LHP Jordan Montgomery - 3-0, 0.69 ERA, 26.0 IP, 8 BB, 23 K
LHP Jerad Grundy - 5-4, 4.18 ERA, 56.0 IP, 16 BB, 49 K
TBA - (Likely LHP Jack Wynkoop)
LHP Corey Littrell - 4-2, 3.16 ERA, 57.0 IP, 21 BB, 51 K
Top average: Kyle Barrett (.338)
Doubles: Austin Cousino (9)
Home runs: A.J. Reed (9)
RBIs: A.J. Reed (40)
Steals: Austin Cousino (10-for-11)