No. 6 South Carolina continued its late-season slide with a third straight SEC series loss this weekend at No. 3 Arkansas.
A 5-1 loss to the Razorbacks in Sunday’s rubber game gave the slumping Gamecocks (37-14, 15-11 SEC) their eighth loss in the 11 games, casting doubt on their status as a postseason host.
Just four games remain in the regular season for USC before a trip to Hoover, Alabama, for the SEC tournament. Here are three key storylines from USC’s series loss against the Hogs.
Heading into this weekend, the Gamecocks had a tenuous grasp on a projected national seed. Baseball America listed the Gamecocks as the No. 7 seed on its projected field of 64, while D1Baseball had the Gamecocks just outside of that range at No. 10.
With the series loss to the Razorbacks, the Gamecocks likely lost their shot at one of the top eight seeds — barring an impressive run in the SEC tournament — and USC more than likely needs a series win over visiting Tennessee next weekend to maintain a hosting nod.
The Gamecocks still ranked No. 3 in the RPI as of Sunday afternoon and No. 5 in strength of schedule, but three straight SEC losing series at the tail end of the season isn’t a good look for the selection committee. A fourth straight against Tennessee could have the Gamecocks staring at a No. 2 seed in a regional.
Better starting pitching
USC’s starting pitching scuffled during USC’s previous two SEC series against Auburn and Kentucky, combining for a 9.87 ERA between the two weekends. With ace Will Sanders dealing with what Mark Kingston called a “slight lower body injury,” USC inserted right-hander Eli Jones into the front of the rotation.
The shakeup paid positive dividends. Even though USC would lose 4-1 Friday, Jones gave the Gamecocks a chance to win by striking out a career-high 10 batters and allowing just two runs in five innings.
Not initially listed among the team’s weekend starters, right-hander Jack Mahoney ended up starting in his usual Saturday role and followed up Jones with his best outing of the season. Mahoney threw seven scoreless innings to help the Gamecocks snap a five-game skid.
Lefty Matthew Becker was serviceable in Sunday’s game, allowing four runs in 5.2 innings, but he didn’t have run support from the USC offense — a trend for most of the weekend.
USC lineup healthier, still lacking juice
In good news for the Gamecocks, the starting lineup was the healthiest it’s been in weeks. Talmadge LeCroy (hamstring) returned to his customary spot at third base, allowing Cole Messina to return to catcher, and shortstop Braylen Wimmer (hamstring) started at DH all three games. Second baseman Will McGillis still was not ready to start coming off his broken arm but is getting closer to returning. He appeared as a pinch runner.
Outside of a pair of RBI singles from Wimmer on Friday and Saturday, the additions didn’t add much of a jolt to USC’s offense, which struggled to produce runs all series long. Three of the team’s five runs in the series came in one inning in Saturday’s 3-1 USC win.
Strangely, the powerful Gamecocks didn’t hit a home run in the series until Sunday’s game, off the bat of freshman Will Tippett. But the Razorbacks neutralized USC’s bats for two of the three games, allowing just two runs combined in Game 1 and Game 3.
Final four USC baseball games
Tuesday: vs. Charlotte, 7 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)
Thursday: vs. Tennessee, 7 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)
Friday: vs. Tennessee, 7 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)
Saturday: vs. Tennessee, 2 p.m. (SEC Network)