COLUMBIA — They can’t help but notice. Try as they might to maintain tunnel vision, to flush the last at-bat, good or bad, the hitters on South Carolina’s baseball team are at the point now that they cannot ignore their run-scoring struggles, especially when compared to the superior performances the Gamecocks are getting from their pitchers.
Junior third baseman LB Dantzler admitted that, yes, sometimes this results in the hitters putting too much pressure on themselves during their at-bats.
“I would say probably a little bit,” he said. “It’s not something we’re doing consciously, but you get to the fourth or fifth inning and realize we only have a run, maybe two, and it kind of gets to you. But we’re trying to just hang in there, and we know we’re better than what we’re showing, so eventually it’s going to turn around.”
Once again Wednesday, the Gamecocks’ offense didn’t give them enough, and they lost 5-4 in a stunner at Division II Francis Marion. That wasn’t the only reason USC lost, of course, but its lack of run production is beginning to irk coach Ray Tanner as the Gamecocks enter their fifth of 10 Southeastern Conference series, at home this weekend against Mississippi State.
Tonight’s Mississippi State starter is one of the league’s best pitchers: junior right-hander Chris Stratton, who is 7-0 with a 2.54 earned-run average, 67 strikeouts and 14 walks. That’s an astounding 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
“I hope we can start scoring some runs,” Tanner said. “We scored four (Wednesday) night, and we score four a lot. We need to get off of that number and try to get a little bit higher.”
Wednesday marked the 17th time in 34 games this season that the Gamecocks have scored four runs or fewer. They are 8-9 in those games and 16-1 when they score more than four runs. Since they began SEC play on March 16, they have played 18 games, and scored four runs or fewer in 10 of them. They are 9-9 overall in that stretch, including 1-9 when scoring four or fewer.
There is always a micro in every macro view, and for the Gamecocks, it is that they simply have not gotten enough offensive production from three key hitters: Dantzler, a junior college transfer; freshman catcher Grayson Greiner and senior right fielder Adam Matthews.
Greiner and Dantzler are both hitting .227, though Dantzler did have a game-winning single last weekend against Tennessee, in a 2-1 victory. Matthews is hitting .221, though he has performed better lately and leads the team with a .308 batting average in SEC games. Greiner’s SEC batting average is .233. Dantzler’s is .214. And while center fielder Evan Marzilli is third on the team with a .297 average in all games, he is hitting .217 in league games.
“When you start breaking it down, we just haven’t had enough guys with big years, big offensive years, all at the same time,” Tanner said.
Dantzler showed potential with blistering hitting during preseason practices. Early in the season, he hit the ball hard, for some tough outs. In his 22 non-conference games, he does have just 12 strikeouts. But he also has 11 in 12 SEC games. He acknowledged that his mental approach at the plate has waned at times, but he hopes he has moved past that.
“I think I’m just giving away some at-bats,” he said. “At the beginning of the year, I feel like I was kind of hitting the ball hard and maybe getting a little unlucky. I think I maybe wasn’t as tough enough mentally as I should have been. I kind of let that get to me a little bit.
“I could see my average (drop), and it got a little upsetting almost. I’ve felt a lot better the last two weeks. It hasn’t really shown yet in the statistics, so I hopefully I can turn it around here soon.”