Gamecocks’ coach Mark Kingston says there’s no ‘doom and gloom’ going into SEC tourney

To hear it from Mark Kingston, things couldn’t be better for South Carolina baseball.

This is what he said: “This is not nearly as ‘doom and gloom’ as it may seem on the outside. That’s not how we feel on the inside.”

This is what it sounded like: How could there be complaints? How could there be any doubts? The SEC is the best baseball conference in the country and, well, South Carolina is not just in the SEC, but has won some games — 13 to be exact. How could any fan think the sky is falling?

Kingston has a semblance of an argument. South Carolina baseball (33-21) has 13 SEC wins and is comfortably ranked inside the RPI’s Top 30 (No. 19). No team has ever fit those two criteria points and missed the NCAA Tournament. Even better: If the Gamecocks win a few games at this week’s SEC Tournament — starting Tuesday in a single-elimination game against Alabama — who’s to say USC couldn’t jump up and host a regional?

“Look, we go there and win three or four (games), then you’re right back in that conversation,” he said. “That’s what a thin line this whole thing is. Are you worried about getting in, or are you worried about hosting?”

On the downside, South Carolina is entering the SEC Tournament on a six-game losing streak. Three weeks ago, the Gamecocks were projected to be the No. 10 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and/ hosting a regional. Last week, they dropped to a No. 2 seed in the Clemson Regional. And on Monday, after being swept by No. 1 Tennessee, D1 Baseball projects the Gamecocks to be a No. 3 seed in the Clemson Regional.

“(We) played 18 games against the top seven teams in the RPI.,” Kingston said. “It’s a ridiculously hard schedule. We endured it, we survived it and we still came out the other side with a 19 RPI.”

Problem is, the Gamecocks don’t seem to have much sturdiness to fall back on.

The regular season is over and the Gamecocks don’t have a clear No. 1 starting pitcher. Heck, their rotation changes weekly. For the game against Alabama, Kingston noted that it’ll follow a similar path to what USC did on Friday: Letting Dylan Eskew run through the order once, then letting Matthew Becker do the same and ending it with Eli Jones and Chris Veach.

“We have to be creative,” Kingston said. “Right now, we don’t have three lock-down weekend starters, so we have to be creative. Having guys go through the lineup one time is a good way to do it.”

Yes, it has worked in spurts. But it’s yet to be seen if it’s a sustainable model for tournament time, when you’re sometimes playing three games in four days.

Last season, South Carolina started 34-6 before being decimated with injuries. The Gamecocks finished the season 42-21 after falling to Florida in the Super Regional.

This year, the Gamecocks have faltered down the stretch with no major injuries. Nothing long-lasting or damaging enough to derail a season — which is perhaps more concerning. Last year, injuries weren’t so much of an excuse as an explanation for not hosting a Super Regional. A year later, the explanation falls on the personnel.

South Carolina has a chance to change it’s narrative this week in Hoover. Kingston has said many times this team is resilient. This would be the perfect week to prove it.

How to watch SEC Tournament

Who: South Carolina (33-21) vs. Alabama (33-21)

When: approx. 2 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala.

TV: SEC Network