USC looks to regain stride in Auburn series

The South Carolina baseball team returns to the field on Friday night as they play host to Auburn in a three-game conference series at Carolina Stadium. After taking two of three on the road against Ole Miss last weekend and splitting the two mid-week games this week, the Gamecocks find themselves one game under .500 in SEC play. For more details, continue reading below.

It's easy to look in the South Carolina baseball record books and see that the Gamecocks have held a large margin in the past over Auburn. The overall series stands at 30-16 in favor of Carolina with a 25-8 edge under current coach Ray Tanner. But if this week's games gave any lessons, it's that history is not always the best indicator of the future. After falling 5-3 to The Citadel in extra innings on Wednesday for the first series loss against the Bulldogs since 1961, Tanner is skeptical of giving the Gamecocks an upper edge in this weekend's three game set.

"It seems like some teams you play better against than you do other teams. In the past we've played well against Auburn but it doesn't mean anything now," Tanner said.

The two teams come into the weekend with almost dead even stat sheets including 24-13 overall records and a 7-8 conference record. Both teams also sit in fourth place in their respective divisions which makes Tanner believe this weekend could turn interesting.

"It's a new year and looking at the series coming up I guess our records are the same, they've hit a few more home runs than we have," Tanner said. "But it seems to be, headed down the back stretch here, everybody wants to do well so it should be a great series."

While fourth place isn't the ideal spot the Gamecocks would like to be in, Tanner and his team do have a favorable schedule still ahead of them. Of the five remaining SEC series on the schedule, three of them are at home but three are against the No. 1, 2 and 3 teams in the SEC Eastern Division standings (Georgia, Florida and Vanderbilt).

Instead of shying away from talking about the situation his team is in, Tanner held a team meeting just after the midseason mark to discuss what was going with his players. His hope is that a head-on approach will make USC aware but not alarmed.

"We had a meeting a week ago and we kind of went through the non-conference slate that we had left, we went through the conference slate where they were, who they were with and those kind of things," Tanner said. "The good news is you get a chance to control your own destiny and we're still in that situation. We're happy that three of the last five are at home but there's no guarantees in this league but it's better than being on the road. Hopefully we can come out and play well and do some good things."

Though they know what lies ahead of them, Tanner is still not 100 percent sure of the lineup he's going to place on the field. True freshman Adam Matthews played solid defense in the outfield and swung a decent bat during the two mid-week games. His presence on the field puts normal centerfielder Whit Merrifield at second to replace Scott Wingo but Tanner isn't sure if that will stay the same for long.

"Adam Matthews has done a good job for us. I've been happy with him as a true freshman. He brings his lunch pail to practice everyday," Tanner said. "I don't know if we'll do it the rest of the time but we're going to do it again. We're going to give him some opportunities and it gives us a little more offensive team going in."

The only sure thing is the starting rotation for the weekend that has remained the same for a few weeks now after an up-and-down start to the season. Sam Dyson (5-2, 5.21 ERA) will face Auburn's Grant Dayton (2-3, 4.24 ERA) on Friday. Nolan Belcher (2-1, 3.73 ERA) will follow on Saturday against Jon Luke Jacobs (3-2, 6.00 ERA). Blake Cooper (4-3, 4.57 ERA) rounds out the rotation as the Tigers have not decided on a Sunday starter yet.

Tanner's hope is that the weekend series sparks the Gamecocks to a solid finish to the season so they can continue playing in the postseason.

"You just hope that going down the back stretch here that we've put together a number of games we can play well in. Not just one out of three or one out of two or even two out of four. You hope that you can that seven, eight or nine games and hopefully do well in seven of those," Tanner said. "That's what you have to do this time of year. It's really not difficult to figure out. It's either get it done, get in position or it's going to be very difficult at the end."

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