If college baseball had pennants, this would be one hell of a pennant race. LSU still sits in fifth place in the SEC West after last week’s sweep of Alabama, but they are one game out of first. That’s right, first and fifth are separated by one game. Things are tight.
The bad news is that Auburn, the sole leader in the division, is playing the hapless Crimson Tide this week, and we should all expect them to pull off a sweep. So, to keep pace, LSU needs to earn a sweep of their own. Wining the series keeps LSU in the ballgame, and a lost series at this point would be a disaster.
Coming in to town is a proud program that has not been playing their best ball this season. You think LSU is having a relative down year? The Gamecocks, used to competing for Omaha, currently sits below .500 in the SEC.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Record: 26-17 (10-11)
Let’s not let the .500 record fool you, this is still a very good baseball team, hovering just outside the top 25 in the computer rankings. They are also getting some love from the human pollsters. The record is misleading because USC has played 25 games against teams in the top 25, going 11-14 in those games. This is a good team that has played a tough schedule.
On the flip side, South Carolina has not won an SEC series since sweeping, you guessed it, Alabama. The Gamecocks have lost five consecutive series, all two games to one, to Auburn, Vandy, State, Florida, and finally Kentucky. LSU would like to extend that streak to six.
The Mascot: Cocky
South Carolina settled on the Gamecock mascot around the turn of last century and of course, there’s a Civil War tie in. General Thomas Sumter of the Revolutionary War was known as the Fighting Gamecock. He was memorialized in South Carolina at Fort Sumter which was the site of the first shots of the Civil War. So Sumter is sort of a two-fer on America’s origin history wars.
However, in recent years, South Carolina has leaned hard into the ridiculous, realizing that their mascot is indeed a chicken.
The school doesn’t have a live mascot, just the costumed cocky, who is so popular that he was named the College World Series official mascot in 1981 and 1982. Cocky has also won National Mascot of the Year three times, an award I did not know even existed until South Carolina’s webpage informed me of the fact. Good on them. Cocky is a blast.
EDIT from PodKATT: Apologies to all for the lack of knowledge by my esteemed colleague. It would be a shame to not recognize Sir Big Spur IV, South Carolina’s live rooster mascot, who participates in USC’s football pregame festivities and watches home and some road football and baseball games from his personal perch. Fun Fact: If you run into the couple who care for Big Spur, as I did in Omaha one year, they might give you a card with his claw stamp autograph on it. We are, all of us, so very weird.
About the School
USNWR Ranking: 107
Most Popular Major: Physiology
The top three majors are physiology, biology, and psychology. If you want to know how the body works, this is the school to go to. I like the split between body and mind as well. This is a school devoted to health, apparently.
The school has pioneered a University 101 program to help incoming students adjust to college life. They require that all freshmen live on campus and work through the program. That is, honestly, a remarkably great idea. For most college freshmen, this is the first time they are living on their own, and it’s a good way to essentially try independent living with a net. Universities tend to teach us things in books, but fail students when it comes to life skills. It’s encouraging to see South Carolina addressing that need.
About the Team
The Gamecocks hit 266/347/400 as a team, which ranks them in the teens in every one of the slash stats in the SEC. Unsurprisingly, the Cocks rank 12th in runs scored with 216. They rank dead last in the SEC in doubles, so there isn’t much gap power, but they do rank 8th in home runs which, as we know, is of particular concern to our gopher ball friendly pitching staff. They don’t have much power, but they make up for it by not running a whole lot. In fact, the only real positive for the Gamecock offense is that the team does not strike out, putting the ball in play and pressure on the defense. You have to make plays against the Gamecocks, as they will put the ball into play.
No player for South Carolina ranks in the top 10 in any major hitting category in the SEC, an obvious problem. Jacob Olson has been their most dangerous hitter all season at 315/369/469. TJ Hopkins is the team’s best qualifying slugger, boasting a 277/340/453 line. So, not that great. However, those two do combine for 8 steals on 9 attempts. The rest of the team is 17 for 31. However, South Carolina does have one dangerous hitter, who does not yet have enough at bats to qualify for the SEC lists, freshman OF Carlos Cortes. He’s hitting 298/359/548 with 6 home runs, and has established himself as the team’s best offensive player.
South Carolina’s 3.51 team ERA ranks 6th in the SEC, so the team is much stronger on the hill than at the plate. Still not dominant, but they can beat you with their arms. Wil Crowe (3.46 ERA, 63/22 K/BB) is the team’s nominal ace and Friday night starter, but he has been outshone this season by the number two starter, Adam Hill (2.30 ERA, 62/28 K/BB).
The uncertainty at the top of the rotation has been caused by a season injury to ace and top prospect Clarke Schmidt. That’s sort of emblematic of how this season has gone for the Gamecocks. He will have Tommy John surgery and hopefully this will not hurt his draft stock, as he was expected to go in the first round. South Carolina is still scrambling now for a third starter.
This is a team with poor hitting and decent pitching that has been weakened by an injury to their best player. They haven’t won a series in over a month. This smells like a trap. The Tigers can’t play with their food here, they need to attack. LSU needs to win this series, and they should do so.