Tracy Glantz/The State
South Carolina pitcher Steven Neff has a 2.45 ERA in 11 games and had key hits in Sunday victories against Vanderbilt and Auburn.
COLUMBIA -- By now, the injuries that have plagued South Carolina's baseball team are well-documented.
From Jackie Bradley Jr.'s wrist to Adam Matthews' hamstring and Evan Marzilli's heart, it's been an abnormally trying experience this season for a team that has managed to stay afloat entering this weekend's final home series.
The Gamecocks (39-10, 18-6 SEC) host Arkansas (32-15, 12-12) beginning today (8 p.m., ESPNU).
"I think it's made our team better," said pitcher/outfielder Steven Neff, one of a handful of Gamecocks who have had to become more versatile and adaptable as a result of the injuries. "I don't know, if we had all our guys, maybe we wouldn't be as good.
"It's forced guys to compete for jobs and really get after it to play, and it's made them better. We're playing as a team."
Neff arrived from Lancaster as a two-way player, an outfielder and a left-handed pitcher. Neff began focusing on pitching until about a month ago, when coach Ray Tanner approached him about hitting and again playing in the outfield.
"I told him 'absolutely,' " Neff said.
Neff's results at the plate have been mixed. He's batting just .179 (5 for 28), but he had key hits in Sunday wins against Vanderbilt and Auburn.
And Neff is still pitching. His shoulder was a bit balky earlier in the season, but, oddly enough, he said a run-in with a fence at Ole Miss last weekend seemed to straighten things out. He allowed a run on five hits in five innings Tuesday, getting a win against Presbyterian. He could soon be a factor in the weekend rotation, where he began the season.
Neff isn't the only one having to pull more than his weight. Robert Beary has played five positions this season, often bouncing back and forth from catcher to the outfield.
Most days and nights, though, senior Brady Thomas has been behind the plate. That grind eventually takes its toll. "I mean, it's tough, but it's just something you have to do. You get in the training room, stay loose and get ready to go the next night."
Of course, USC only has Thomas this season because of an NCAA waiver that granted him a sixth year because of a medical hardship a few years back. Playing this season -- much the same as it was last season on the national title run -- has required selflessness. "You have to do it for the team," Neff said. "Wherever he puts me, I'll do whatever I can."
The next step for USC is bouncing back from last weekend's series loss at Mississippi, the team's first SEC series loss. It had won the previous seven, and also took a three-game set from Clemson.
Because of the resilience it's built, Neff, for one, isn't concerned about the Gamecocks. "It's not like we haven't lost a game all year. We've bounced back pretty well all year. We'll find ways to put it behind us and move on."
Tanner said Friday there's a good chance Matthews will pinch hit this weekend, as he tries to make his way back from the strained left hamstring. He's still a week or two away from playing in the outfield. … Forrest Koumas will pitch Saturday, Tanner said, and Sunday's game is being listed as a to-be-determined. Colby Holmes, who was roughed up last weekend, is still the top choice, but others, such as Tyler Webb, could be factors.
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