Weekend Review: USC Wins Big Road Series
When you take a look at what's been problematic for the Gamecocks as of late, it's been the pitching staff. But with arm injuries to Jay Brown and Jordan Costner, Mike Cisco's dead arm, and a not yet 100 percent Arik Hempy, this past weekend's performance is not so bad at all.
The Gamecocks would say they haven't been themselves of late, but the bats are certainly not lost. USC continued to pound the ball, led by a five home run weekend performance by Travis Jones. Jones was 9-12 at the plate, and if he's not national player of the week, then I personally would like to slap the stupid out of who makes that call.
The biggest question now for Coach Ray Tanner is what to do with Jones. Do you leave him in the eighth spot where he has shined brilliantly in Gainesville, or do you move him up in the order? If Tanner moves him up, where do you put him? It's not as if the guys ahead of him are struggling.
Harley Lail is hitting .337 and continues to be a consistent leadoff man for Tanner's club. James Darnell holds a .355 batting average and is a multiple threat in the number two spot.
Tanner certainly won't shift Trent Kline, Justin Smoak and Phil Disher from their spots as they seem to complement each other in their roles. All, by the way, continue to hit over .330.
Tanner could move Jones to the number six spot, but having Jones in the number eight hole allows his speed to be more of a weapon with bunts and hit and runs that Reese Havens and Lail can provide. Either way, this is a good problem to have for Tanner.
The Gamecocks are now hitting .316 as a team, but more importantly, are getting production throughout the lineup. Gator pitchers never had the opportunity to take a pitch off this weekend, and if they did, one of the 42 hits that USC had was added to the scoreboard.
Heading into the Florida series, the biggest question mark hung over the pitching staff. Harris Honeycutt was once again phenomenal, and Will Atwood showed he can shine at any point in any role on the mound. If the Gamecocks are to make it to Omaha, look for Atwood to be called on if the Gamecocks make it deep.
Cooper struggled on Sunday, but he's still a freshman and has by no means been a disappointment this year. Without Atwood or Costner in the bullpen, Alex Farrato was called upon and did just fine in his role. The best performance without question came from Jeff Jeffords, as he not only kept the Gamecocks within reach on Sunday, but gutted out a terrific 95 pitch outing to win the series. However, questions have come up on the consistency of Curtis Johnson
Johnson at one point was a possible closer candidate, but has struggled recently. I don't expect this to go on much longer as Johnson's stuff is very good. All junior college pitchers seem to take a hit here or there, and I expect Tanner to keep calling Johnson's number.
The big question is what will Tanner do with Wynn Pelzer. Pelzer seems to be the only guy on the staff who has a closer's mentality. The fact that Pelzer only has one save isn't an issue, simply due to the fact that the Gamecocks haven't had that many opportunities.
What concerns me is his lack of control finally caught up to him.
Pelzer must find ways to throw his fastballs for strikes if he wants to be the closer this team needs. Unfortunately, Tanner must stick with Pelzer and hope he comes through. Personally, I think by the end of the year, this will no longer be an issue.
The Gamecocks needed to own the tiebreaker against the Gators in the SEC-East race, and after the series win, that's mission accomplished. USC now only trails the upstart Gators by a game. I expect USC to now finish ahead of the Gators at the end of the year, and it may even come down to the tiebreaker.
The Gamecocks are not in as big of trouble as one may think in the pitching staff. Costner should be back soon, and Hempy seems to be closer than ever to a weekend role. If Cisco can come back and be the fourth pitcher, the Gamecocks will be better than fine.
This past weekend proved once again that the Gamecocks are not just a hot hitting team, but one of the best in the country.
Now Tanner's squad gets ready for Clemson, as the Gamecocks look for the series win against the Tigers. I think it's safe to say that Jeffords deserves the day off.
BEST HITTER – Travis Jones
BEST PITCHER – Jeff Jeffords
BEST HOME RUN – Travis Jones's deep center shot to tie it in the 9th on Sunday
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