— Serious spring baseball has not yet arrived at South Carolina. The Gamecocks are just six games into 56-game regular season, and then however long they can last in the postseason as they try to win their third consecutive national championship.
Yet through the season's first two series — sweeps of Virginia Military Institute and Elon, which concluded Sunday with a 6-0 victory — USC's pitchers are dominating.
Clearly, VMI and Elon are not on par with the Southeastern Conference teams USC will face later this spring, or with Clemson, which USC plays in a traveling series this weekend. Still, USC's pitching numbers through six games are impressive: 18 hits, seven runs, five earned runs, 12 walks, 68 strikeouts and a 0.83 earned-run average. Opponents are hitting .102 against USC.
Sunday's three-hit shutout completed a weekend in which USC allowed just seven hits, three runs, one earned run and eight walks. The Gamecocks struck out 32 Elon hitters in three games.
For the season, USC is hitting .292 – two points lower than last season's final team batting average. Gaudy hitting numbers in college baseball are a thing of the past because of the sport's weaker bats, which debuted last year. But you'd think USC would have hit better than .292 against VMI and Elon.
USC coach Ray Tanner did not mince words when saying his pitching is 'the reason we've had a chance to win our games. We haven't been a
potent team offensively. I'm happy with our pitching staff over
all in all areas. Are those guys
untouchable? Are they first-round
draft picks? That's probably not the case. However, they're very
good college pitchers with expe
rience. If you'll play pretty good defense behind them, they'll give you a chance to win.'
No. 3 starter Colby Holmes improved to 2-0 on Sunday. In 10
innings this year, he has allowed four hits and zero runs, earned or otherwise. He has 12 strikeouts and three walks.
Holmes was the No. 2 starter last year, and while he wasn't as dominant as Michael Roth or Matt Price, he had a 3.69 ERA, 77 strikeouts and 21 walks. He spent last fall and this spring trying to master his change-up. After bullpen sessions, he asked pitching coach Jerry Meyers to spend extra time with him, so they could hone the pitch.
'We'd just go out there and throw changeup after change-up so I'd get the feel for it,' Holmes said. 'It just came to me one day and I got the feel for it and it's been good ever since. ... This year I'm throwing my changeup a whole lot more. I've got more confidence in it.'
Last season, USC relied heavily on its pitching staff, which had a 2.45 ERA. Quality pitching is more important than ever in college baseball, and you have to wonder if USC's arms this season can be as successful as they were in 2011.
Holmes, for one, is taking a wait-and-see approach before he decides if the Gamecocks can come close to continuing the pitching dominance they showed in the first six games over the next 50.
'We can be just as good (as last year),' he said. 'Last year, we were great. You can't really say if we're going to be better or not yet.'