South Carolina must win at least seven of its last nine conference games and then get some help from those clubs facing Florida in order to win the SEC Eastern Division this year. USC travels to Auburn this weekend before hosting Tennesse May 14-16.
Trailing Florida by three games with nine conference games remaining, South Carolina (11-10 SEC, 32-12 overall) needs a whole lot of wins and a little bit of luck in order to capture the SEC East title for the fifth time in six years.
Barring a total collapse by Florida (14-7, 34-12), to have any realistic chance of catching the Gators in the standings, USC must win at least seven of its final nine SEC games and hope for the Gators to stumble.
While unlikely considering the strength of UF's pitching, if there is one USC coach who has shown the ability to win down the stretch, it is Ray Tanner. One of the most successful USC coaches ever, Tanner is a taskmaster who demands nothing less than top-notch effort and performance from his players.
Believe it or not, USC is actually one game ahead of its pace from last season, when a 10-11 conference record had some people fearful that USC wouldn't even qualify for the SEC Tournament.
But USC flipped the switch, going 9-0 in May to roar from behind and win the division title. That level of success is nothing new for the Gamecocks, who are 21-3 in SEC games in May since 2001.
A strong finish to the regular season is also important because even if the Gamecocks don't win the division, second place, and the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament is certainly attainable. If USC finishes as one of the top four seeds in the SEC, it is likely the Gamecocks will host a NCAA regional.
Florida has been red hot since dropping two of three in Columbia to the Gamecocks one month ago. The fact all three games were decided by one run shows how evenly matched USC and UF are.
Since leaving Columbia, the Gators are 8-1 in SEC games, including home sweeps over Vanderbilt and Auburn. UF travels to Alabama this weekend before finishing the regular season with series against Ole Miss in Gainesville and at Tennessee. USC host the Vols next weekend in a crucial series that could decide second place in the SEC East.
The difference between USC and UF is how they handled Kentucky, unquestionably the worst team in the league. While the Gators swept the Wildcats in Lexington in late March, USC lost two of three at UK. Those losses, together with the stunning loss to Alabama when USC surrendered six runs in the ninth inning, are haunting the Gamecocks now.
Realistically, Florida would have to stumble across the finish line with no better than a 4-5 record in the final three series to give USC any chance of catching the Gators. Since USC owns the tie-breaker against the Gators, if the two clubs finish tied at the conclusion of the regular season, USC wins.
SOUTH CAROLINA'S REMAINING SEC SCHEDULE:
May 7-9 at Auburn
May 14-16 TENNESSEE
May 21-23 at Georgia
FLORIDA'S REMAINING SEC SCHEDULE:
May 7-9 at Alabama
May 14-16 OLE MISS
May 21-23 at Tennessee
Gamecocks Need Wins, Luck To Catch Gators
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