COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s baseball team is still far from an offensive powerhouse, though the Gamecocks should feel encouraged that they have now won their past two series, two games to one, after starting 1-5 in Southeastern Conference play.
They showed signs of progress in Sunday’s 6-1 victory over Tennessee. It was just the fourth time in 12 SEC games this season that the Gamecocks have scored more than four runs, and they are 1-7 in those other eight games.
Still, USC is batting .274 and scoring 5.1 runs per game, compared to last season’s .294 batting average and 6.1 runs per game.
The Gamecocks left 17 runners on base in Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Volunteers and needed an eight-inning, three-hit, one-run gem from freshman Jordan Montgomery, their new No. 2 starting pitcher, in order to avoid losing the series.
Sunday, they got another fine pitching performance, typical of their season, as Colby Holmes allowed a run and four hits in seven innings. Neither he nor Montgomery walked a batter.
But the Gamecocks also took advantage of scoring opportunities Sunday by getting four runs in the fifth inning. They left just six runners on base in the game.
“Obviously, it’s been something we’ve been working on and something we’re happy to finally come through,” right fielder Adam Matthews said. “This game can be humbling and can be frustrating. It was a relief.”
Coach Ray Tanner said before the series that he thought some of his players were being too passive and picky in their hitting approaches, and he started to see more aggression Sunday.
“We know that we’re not hitting like we’re capable of hitting,” Matthews said. “At times, we’re taking too many strikes. We’re watching too many first-pitch strikes.”
Despite their offensive issues, the Gamecocks have now played four of their 10 SEC series and are 23-9, 5-7 in the league.
“It’s a warming feeling, I guess, to know that we’re right there in the mix,” Matthews said.
Said Holmes: “Our hitting will come around sooner or later.”
USC got an answer to one pressing question Saturday, when Montgomery shined in his first SEC start. Tanner plans to stick with him as Matt Price’s replacement in the No. 2 spot, now that Price is the closer, as he was last season.
The Gamecocks also gave Tanner a reason to feel better about their offense in the eighth on Sunday, when they got a run-scoring single from shortstop Joey Pankake, who has hit well all season, and a run-scoring double on a first-pitch swing by catcher Dante Rosenberg, who hasn’t.
The double came against Tennessee reliever Dalton Saberhagen, the son of former Major League pitcher Bret Saberhagen, who named his son after Patrick Swayze’s bar bouncer character from the 1989 film “Road House.” As delightful as that detail is – and Tennessee’s sports information director confirmed its accuracy – Tanner was more pleased with the hits themselves.
“We dug ourselves a hole so it’s our fault,” Tanner said of the 1-5 start against Kentucky, which swept USC, and Florida. “I’m optimistic that we’re going to get a little bit better offensively as we go. We’ve kind of been stuffed a little bit. We knew after the Kentucky weekend that we’re playing uphill and we’re still playing uphill. We’re hanging in there.”