Cooper points to unity as reason for success

After a strong finish to the regular season, the South Carolina baseball team heads to Greenville, N.C. as part of the East Carolina regional. The Gamecocks will play George Mason in the 3 p.m. game on Friday. For USC junior pitcher Blake Cooper, the recent success is something he points to resulting from a renewed team-first mindset in the dugout. For more details, continue reading below.

Blake Cooper shakes off the idea that South Carolina should be considered the favored team going into this weekends NCAA Regional in Greenville, N.C. Though the regional's field of East Carolina, George Mason and Binghamton doesn't have the pop in names as some other sites around the country, Cooper isn't willing to push USC into the next round just yet.

His reason for that mindset is simple – a few weeks ago, the Gamecocks were a team that looked to be headed in a completely opposite direction. So Cooper plans to make sure the team doesn't let thoughts like that overshadow this trip to the tournament which begins at 3 p.m. on Friday against George Mason.

"Well you know about 15 games ago people was saying that we might not even make the postseason. And we went on a pretty good run or whatever and we've put ourselves in good position and even in the talk to host. I think we've got a pretty good draw going up to East Carolina," Cooper said.

After finishing the regular season with wins in 10 of the last 11 games, the Gamecocks stint in Hoover, Al. for the SEC Tournament was short lived due to back-to-back losses after loading the bases in the bottom of the ninth.

However, Cooper also cites the team's lone win in the tournament as a character builder as well.

The Gamecocks used a late inning rally to come up with a 5-4 win over Alabama in extra innings. The rally was fueled by a home run from freshman outfielder Adam Matthews and some timely hitting from the team's veteran leaders. That rally is a slightly different way of doing things from last season when the Gamecocks relied heavily on the guys like Justin Smoak, Reese Havens and James Darnell to come along with the big hit.

But with those players gone to professional baseball, Carolina has had to take on a more unified approach across the board in the recent success.

"Obviously last year we had some big name guys. Last year I think we looked towards them to lead us cause I mean they always have. This year we've got a bunch of guys that can put up some numbers," Cooper said. "We've hit some home runs this year. I think we're close to 100 home runs and I think as a whole our team is better. If we can put it all together we'll be good."

While the team has gelled as a whole, there has also been a change in Cooper on an individual level. Before the recent hot streak, Cooper was a pitcher in the USC rotation that coach Ray Tanner would remark might not make his regularly scheduled start on Sunday. But after a strong finish to the year, Cooper was picked as the starter for Carolina's SEC Tournament opener and is slated to start Game 2 of the regional.

It's that veteran leadership that has made Cooper an arm USC is counting on in the postseason run ahead.

"I went to (Tanner) and I said ‘I want the ball.' You know I'm going good I've got good confidence and I'm throwing strikes. Like I said before when I'm not going good I'm picking at the corners, picking at the corners," Cooper said. "I can have good enough stuff if I just throw strikes I should be fine. We have a pretty good defense and I know our offense is going [to score]. If I can do that we should be OK."

The game is also a chance for the right hander to get a little bit of self confidence back after a shaky outing against East Carolina last season. If the Pirates and Gamecocks meet in the second game, Cooper will get to make up for a three inning, six run outing that led to his first loss of the season. Though that game is a possibility, Cooper knows the opponent doesn't matter nearly as much as the score.

"Last year we played them in the first game, first series of the weekend and they gave us a little struggle and myself I didn't do so well against them. I guess I'm kind of looking for redemption or whatever," Cooper said. "It's going to be a good matchup this weekend and we've got to go out and get the first one and then worry about the second one and when we get to third one worry about the third one."

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