Weekend Review: Questions Abound For USC

The University of South Carolina baseball team battled the Vanderbilt Commodores over the weekend for ownership of the potentially crucial tiebreaker between the two elite squads. The SEC Eastern Division and even the SEC Championship could come down to a tiebreaker, and after losing two of three games to the Commodores over the weekend, the Gamecocks are now on the wrong side.


If all goes as expected, the SEC East race should come down to the Gamecocks and Commodores. If that happens, USC will have to finish with a better record than Vanderbilt to win the title and have a good chance at hosting a Super Regional.

After losing the first two games, the Gamecocks came out on top Sunday, thanks in large part to freshman pitcher Blake Cooper's seven and two-thirds inning performance and the bats of Phil Disher and James Darnell.

So what went wrong this weekend?

First of all, the Gamecocks found a way in their Friday and Saturday losses to pop the ball up to virtually every spot on the field, while Vanderbilt hitters were picking which billboard to hit it off of. If the Gamecocks are going to be successful against top competition, they must find ways to consistently hit against left handers. Vanderbilt pitchers David Price and Mike Minor owned the Gamecock hitters by keeping them off balance with sliders and change-ups in the two losses.

In response to the lack of hitting, Head Coach Ray Tanner was forced to adjust his lineup each day this past weekend, and now the question is, "What will the lineup be Wednesday against Furman?"

South Carolina has always been known for their stellar defense, but it has become a cause for concern of late. Tanner must now decide if playing Robbie Grinestaff in left field is worth the risk, because although he brings a lot to the table as a hitter, his defense is really hurting the team.

After a couple of bad mistakes on Saturday, Gamecock fans should wonder when they'll see Grinestaff in left field again. However, can the Gamecocks win the SEC with one less power bat in the lineup?

Finally, you have to look at the pitching over the weekend as a big factor in the two losses. Friday's performers did a fine job, but Saturday's starter Mike Cisco suffered once again. Cisco had been struggling with his control over the past few weeks, getting the ball up in the zone, and Vanderbilt made him pay on Saturday.

The Gamecocks are 0-3 in the SEC when Cisco starts, which makes one wonder if Tanner will change up the weekend pitching rotation. The answer may have to do with the health of Arik Hempy and Jay Brown, and the Gamecocks are beginning to need these two guys sooner than later.

It was encouraging to see strong peformances on the mound by Craig Thomas and Forrest Beverly over the weekend. With the loss of Nick Fuller, Tanner may have discovered another couple of options he can go to out of the bullpen. However, their consistency is still in question.

All of these questions are ones that Tanner will have to look at closely to determine the direction of his team. One thing for sure is that when Disher, Kline, and/or Darnell bring the bats that hit to the plate, the Gamecocks are one of the best teams in the country.

CLOSING ANALYSIS

Now may be the time to begin to challenge Hempy, but only the coaching staff knows how far along he actually is. The Gamecocks need another starting pitcher, whether it be Brown or Hempy, but someone needs to come in and put some pressure on the current staff.

I expect Cisco to settle back down and be fine, but let's not forget the ultimate goal: Winning in Omaha. The Gamecocks are going to need more starting pitching if this is to happen.

WEEKEND MVP: Blake Cooper

Cooper's performance on the mound Sunday led the Gamecocks to their only win of the series.

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