Notebook: Gamecocks top #1 again

For the second time this season South Carolina took on the #1 ranked baseball team in the country, and for the second time, the Gamecocks picked up a series win. Coach Ray Tanner wrapped up the weekend and said that halfway through the conference schedule, his team still has a lot to play for.

Last season, South Carolina didn't win the SEC East. They didn't win the regular season or tournament championship. But they won the one that mattered most, the national championship at the College World Series in Omaha.

So despite taking two out of three from #1 Vanderbilt this past weekend, Ray Tanner is focused on his team staying hungry and continuing to play well, if for nothing else than setting themselves up for another lengthy postseason run.

Tanner took time after Sunday's series clinching 5-3 Gamecock win to reflect on yet another huge series and look forward to the rest of the conference slate.

"For the third day in a row it was a great college baseball game with two pretty good teams going at each other," said Tanner. "I'm extremely proud of our players for battling in the situation that we couldn't get anything going, and we sort of just willed our way to being successful today. I think it was a combination of the battle that we had and our fans today. We had great fans that got into the game and helped us create a rally there late. I'm grateful for that and I'm really proud of my players to come back today."

Overcoming adversity

After dropping a midweek game to the Citadel last week, it certainly appeared to be a tall order to shake that game and get ready to play against the top team in the nation. Add to that the suspension of outfielder Jake Williams and things got even tougher.

But the biggest blow may have come on Saturday when Adam Matthews reinjured his hamstring sliding into first base; an injury that Tanner says will likely keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.

However the Gamecocks made the necessary adjustments to their lineup, even letting Steven Neff fill in with an at-bat and letting Matt Price go three innings to help a depleted bullpen on Sunday. Also, Jackie Bradley Jr. was moved to the leadoff spot on Sunday to help him try to break a slump, and he responded with two hits.

"Well I did, I sort of took the attitude that I realized there is a lot of baseball left, that this is only the halfway point, but you've got to try to find a way to win," said Tanner. "And I talked to Jackie this morning a little bit about getting him in a different environment. Slumps are hard. Just change it up. Neff is athletic, I like who he is and he didn't seem to be fazed by lack of experience. He got that rally started for us. We just battled, we're still scuffling a little bit in the middle of the order, but we're not in it any different than anybody else."

Tanner went on to reiterate the fact that teams all across the country are struggling right now with a variety of problems, but that his team would not be using those problems as an excuse.

"There's no question I'm proud of our players," added Tanner. "We had some adversity, we had some injuries. Matthews goes down again. But all teams have situations that are difficult and you can either use it as a crutch or you can still find a way. And had we lost today I still would have would have been proud of our guys (because) we battled. We're not as good as we want to be at times, but that's just the way it is."

Problems in the outfield

While Jake Williams continues to work his issues out and looks to make his return to the team, Adam Matthews may not be so lucky when dealing with his re-aggravated hamstring.

The junior from Lexington reinjured the hamstring diving into first base on Saturday while trying to beat out a bunt single.

"I can't answer the Jake Williams situation, I don't know where that is," said Tanner. "I thought it might get resolved and it did not get resolved, so that's where it is as far as I'm concerned. Adam Matthews, I hate to be pessimistic, but it's unlikely that he'll play again. We've got about a month left in the regular season, so I'm not encouraged by that. It's a pretty severe hamstring. He was in pain just sitting in the training room this morning so it's going to take awhile."

The Gamecocks will conclude the regular season with a series at Alabama May 19-21.

Winning the battle

With a lot of question marks coming into this series, it would have been easy to point fingers had the Gamecocks lost two of three or gotten swept. But Coach Tanner said he was proud of how his players fought all weekend despite the adversity facing them.

"I told the players, I said, ‘I'm proud of how you guys battled, I would have said that had we lost today. You guys do what you can to win, you fight and you scratch and claw and you show up and go.' That's really all you can ask of your players."

While the offense has underachieved in SEC play, pitching and defense have been hallmarks of excellence that have allowed the Gamecocks to pile up conference wins week in and week out. With half of those battles now complete, USC will look to stay sharp and continue their time at the top of the conference standings.

"We're fortunate," added Tanner. "Like I said, our run output is low and we've got twelve wins at this point. We've had great pitching, played solid defense. I'd like to see us score a few more runs but they've done a good job to this point and it's halfway. We've got a lot left and hopefully we can maintain some consistency and win some games. There's going to be a lot in the balance as there already had been, and you've got to try to win enough of those games. There's so many good teams in our league."

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