COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's series win against former No. 1 Vanderbilt was not enough to vault the Gamecocks to the top of the polls, but the defending champs are gaining ground.
USC, now 28-7 and an SEC-best 12-3 in conference play heading into tonight's game against College of Charleston at Patriots Point, was ranked second behind Virginia (36-3) in every major poll released Monday.
That irked some Gamecocks fans, who thought USC should have received more consideration after taking down a No. 1-ranked team for the second time in a month. It did not bother coach Ray Tanner, however.
"It's not important right now. It really isn't," Tanner said Monday afternoon on Columbia's 107.5 "The Game." "You want to be in there somewhere. … But it's not a big deal for us to be in that 1 spot right now.
"Virginia has been outstanding. They've won well over 30 games. They deserve to be where they are. It's flattering to be in the conversation."
The Gamecocks would not have been part of the discussion if not for a late rally in Sunday's rubber game against the Commodores. The team was short on energy until a four-run seventh inning, sparked by a Steven Neff double down the right-field line.
That was significant considering it was Neff's first hit as a Gamecock. He arrived in 2008 from Lancaster as a two-way player, but injuries and the fact that he is left-handed led Neff to the pitching staff.
With his left shoulder hindered by tenderness, and with a lack of outfield options, Tanner used Neff on Sunday as a designated hitter. He rewarded him.
"Some guys are just blessed with tremendous talent, and he's one of them," Tanner said. "I just kind of rolled the dice with them and he helped us."
Closer Matt Price's three scoreless innings were key in the victory Sunday. Michael Roth's strong 7 2/3 innings were important Friday.
The junior left-hander was named the SEC's pitcher of the week for the performance, which included eight strikeouts. It took Vanderbilt until the fifth inning before it even registered a hit against Roth, who has fashioned himself into one of the league's best arms.
Roth is 8-1 with a 1.24 ERA in nine starts (10 games).
"He's been stellar, he's been fantastic," Tanner said. "I knew he would compete. I really believed in him. I thought he would give us a chance to win, he would keep us close. I just didn't expect him to put up the kind of dominating numbers that he's put up. It's really been mind-boggling to me."
By some scheduling quirk, USC is now done with its games against the SEC East. Only the Western Division remains. The final five weekend series are against Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Alabama. Only two, Auburn and Arkansas, are at home.
The West is a jumbled mess right now, with Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss all tied for the division lead at 8-7. This weekend's opponent, Mississippi State, is 22-14 and 6-9 in the league.
Tanner said the most optimistic prognosis for outfielder Adam Matthews to return from his left hamstring injury is three weeks. But Tanner continued to doubt whether the junior could be back before the postseason. … Tanner also had no update on suspended outfielder Jake Williams, other than to say he will not play tonight against the Cougars. He said he is a "candidate" to return this weekend for the Mississippi State series. … Tonight's starter against Charleston will be a left-hander, either sophomore Tyler Webb or junior Bryan Harper.
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