Weekend Review: The Start of Something Good?
Even more impressive, though, after USC's recent struggles is that the Gamecocks only had one inning where they didn't play well against the Wildcats. However, that one poor inning cost them the win on Saturday. Nevertheless, the Gamecocks, now second place in the rugged SEC-East, head into the final two weekend series with their heads held a little higher.
So what changed? Why all of a sudden did the Gamecocks seem to return back to their old form?
First of all, make no mistake; the friendly confines of Sarge Frye Field always seem a little friendlier to the home side. The pitchers looked more comfortable, the hitters appeared to have more confidence, and the ball seemed to bounce the Gamecocks' way a couple of times... finally.
Arik Hempy was once again outstanding, striking out 10 in six innings of work Friday night. Will Atwood was the only one who struggled out of the bullpen, and questions remain about what's happened to him. Look for Head Coach Ray Tanner to use him for only one or two batters the next time out instead of closing out a game.
Questions still hover over previous Friday night starter, Harris Honeycutt. He struggled throwing his fastballs for strikes Saturday, but his changeup was as masterful as ever. Tanner still has plenty of confidence in Honeycutt, so don't expect him to go anywhere soon.
Blake Cooper pitched far better than his box score showed, as he seems to be the one Tanner and Pitching Coach Mark Calvi want to go with on Sundays. Cooper's ERA against the SEC is much lower than Mike Cisco's, but now that the postseason is just around the corner, expect Cisco to be used in plenty.
What really seemed to help the most was winning Friday night. The Gamecocks last won a Friday match up on April 6th, when they defeated Florida 12-2. Jumping on Kentucky early really kick started the team, and they were only forced to look back during the 4th inning on Saturday.
Travis Jones got it going Friday night with a leadoff double, and now that he's hitting, he seems much more comfortable in the leadoff role. Jones also doubled to leadoff Saturday's game and hit a hard line drive out to the second baseman on Sunday. He finished 8-14 on the weekend and has proven to be a very dangerous threat in his new role.
Tanner continues to juggle not just his starters, but also his batting order. Steven Rienhold once again started in CF over the weekend and John Willard started in LF twice and RF once. Cheyne Hurst replaced Andrew Crisp on Sunday after Crisp was hit by a pitch to the left of this left eye. Hurst didn't disappoint, going 2-4 with a home run.
On Sunday, Tanner moved James Darnell out of hitting third and back to the 2nd spot. Justin Smoak slid up, as did Phil Disher, and Trent Kline moved to the 5th spot. Disher enjoyed his new role, going 3-5 on Sunday.
The one Gamecock who has lost the most during these changes is Harley Lail, who after taking over the leadoff role back on March 9th against Brown, has been watching more lately than playing. Lail appeared twice as a defensive substitute and went 1-1 on Saturday at the plate. What Tanner will do with Lail in the future remains a mystery, but Gamecock fans should still expect productivity out of him this year.
Travis Jones has performed well in his new spot in the lineup.
The biggest reason for the success this weekend, however, starts at the top of the order with Jones. He's now 12-15 stealing bases, and his consistency not only at the plate but on the base paths is something that Lail struggled bringing to the table.
If Lail should return to the lineup, expect him to be placed in the 7th or 8th spot.
Moving Travis Jones to the leadoff spot when Tanner did may be the best move he's made all year. Jones is now comfortable in the role when it matters the most.
If the Gamecocks can go a minimum of 5-1 over the next two weekends to finish at 18-12, and as long as they finish 2nd in the East (which 18-12 would do), the Gamecocks still have a shot at receiving a Top Eight seed. This would, however, have to include an SEC Tournament Championship. But with the starting pitching depth that USC has, anything is possible. Also don't forget the Gamecocks are five wins away from 40, a number that the NCAA selection committee looks upon with great respect.
Tanner's ability to go with his gut and move guys at any point is paying off for the Gamecocks right now. It's still not too late for the Gamecocks to make their run, but this past weekend has to be the beginning. There's no more room for error.
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