Well, the Gamecocks have lived to see another game at this year’s College World series, and it’s against a familiar nemesis in the Razorbacks from Arkansas. The Gamecocks were defeated 2-1 in their last meeting on Monday, the game that sent Carolina to the loser’s bracket and put Arkansas in the driver’s seat to advance to the championship series against Arizona or Florida State. Here are some keys to success if the Gamecocks are to force a winner-take-all rematch with the Hogs tomorrow night.
- Stop stranding runners: The Gamecocks have made a habit all season of failing to capitalize on scoring opportunities, and old habits die hard. The 4-1 margin against Kent State seemed comfortable because of Michael Roth’s dominant performance on the mound. But it should have been much more. Chase Vergason ran South Carolina out of the 3rd inning after an embarrassing stolen base attempt in which the Golden Flashes pitcher simply threw to the shortstop to catch him in a rundown between 1st and 2nd. The play left Grayson Greiner stranded at third. An Adam Matthews strikeout left the bases loaded in the 5th, and a Joey Pankake strikeout left two stranded in the 6th. I know that not every inning in which the Gamecocks have a man reach base will end in a run being put on the board, but we can’t keep squandering scoring chances like this. This is something the Gamecocks have been doing all season. It’s scary to think how good this team could be if it could put it all together for a stretch of more than a weekend series. Against Arkansas, we have to score when the opportunities come. Plain and simple. Because they won’t come often.
- Get consistent production from the bottom of the order: Chase Vergason, hitting in the 9-hole, has been a real spark for the Gamecocks in the postseason. Of his 12 RBI’s in 2012, seven have come in NCAA Tournament play. That’s getting hot at the right time. Others, however, are cooling down. Grayson Greiner had a tough few at-bats after a hard-hit RBI single that deflected off the third baseman’s glove, although he’s likely fairly rusty after spending a few weeks on the shelf with a knee injury. It’s simply painful to watch Tanner English at the plate nowadays. He’s a serviceable bunter, but looks absolutely lost at the plate. He routinely engages in halfhearted check swings and chases pitches far outside the strike zone. Adam Matthews has had a tough go of it recently as well. Vergason can’t be counted on to be a table-setter in every at-bat. The bottom half of the lineup has to start hitting more consistently if the Gamecocks are to take two games in as many days from Arkansas.
- Get quality innings from the bullpen (if necessary): If nothing else, the Carolina bullpen was already incredibly well-rested heading into the gauntlet facing the team this morning. Now, they’re at full strength. Michael Roth’s complete game gem in today’s early game, coupled with Tyler Webb’s mastery of Arkansas hitters over the final 5 1/3 innings Monday night, means that the bullpen is at full strength for tonight’s game. This is extremely important to Carolina’s chances, since the team will likely start a freshman making just his second career postseason appearance. At the earliest signs of trouble, Tanner and pitching coach Jerry Meyers will have the ability to go to anyone in the bullpen, including Tyler Webb. With the potential for up to two more games before the championship series, the Gamecocks are in the best position they could possibly be with regards to the pitching staff. Perhaps this is why Tanner elected to start Roth over Montgomery in the first place, knowing he could trust him to go for 6 or 7 innings and not overly tax the bullpen. Whatever his reasoning, he has to be pleased with where the Gamecocks are positioned heading into tonight.
- Be patient at the plate: If there’s one thing the Gamecocks didn’t do well in the first matchup with Arkansas, it was to be patient at the dish. It stands to reason that the more pitches you see against a pitcher, the more quickly you can figure him out. But the Gamecocks didn’t seem to buy into that philosophy on Monday night. If they are patient at the plate, they can drive the opposing starter’s pitch count up and take advantage of scoring opportunities. The Gamecocks need to score early tonight, because runs are notoriously difficult to come by against Arkansas’ bullpen.