South Carolina’s baseball team flew to Arkansas on Thursday carrying an 11-game Southeastern Conference winning streak.
And while the Gamecocks didn’t return with the streak at 14, they continued the impressive play that surely has many of their fans dreaming of what might be in the NCAA tournament as USC tries to defend its back-to-back national titles.
USC capped the series with a 10-7 victory Sunday in a wild game that was scoreless after six innings. The Gamecocks’ conference winning streak had ended Saturday at 12 games — second in school history only to the SEC-record 17-game winning streak from 2000 — with a 7-6 loss.
But all in all, they can feel happy about their offensive showing against an Arkansas team that entered the weekend with an SEC-best 3.20 ERA — especially in Friday’s game, which they won 8-6 in 10 innings after falling behind 6-0.
With two SEC series left before the postseason, USC could end up looking back at this trip to 18th-ranked Arkansas (34-15, 12-12 SEC) as a pivotal moment in a season that once seemed so uncertain.
The fifth-ranked Gamecocks (36-11, 16-8) are atop East division, ahead of Kentucky (15-9) and Florida (14-10), both of which hold tiebreakers over USC. First place seemed so distant on the final day of March when USC lost for the seventh time in 11 games.
Then the Gamecocks went 14-3 in April and are 3-1 so far in May, the month when the nation’s best college baseball teams begin separating themselves from the rest. The Gamecocks travel to Georgia this weekend and host No. 4 LSU the following weekend.
Win those two series, and they will almost certainly receive one of the top eight national seeds in the NCAA tournament, which would assure them of hosting both a Regional and Super Regional, should they advance that far.
The Ratings Percentage Index is one factor used to determine which teams get those national seeds, and as of last Tuesday, USC was ninth, Arkansas 12th, Georgia 46th and LSU seventh.
USC put itself in position to get a national seed, which it received last season but not in 2010, by going nearly a month without losing a conference game — from a 5-4 defeat against Tennessee on April 6 to Saturday’s loss at Arkansas. The Gamecocks have now won six consecutive series since starting the season 1-5 in league play.
Heading into Arkansas trip, many people surely figured Sunday would be the game when USC’s winning streak likely would end. For the second consecutive series, USC didn’t have its Sunday starter, Colby Holmes, who is out with shoulder soreness. USC coach Ray Tanner said before the series that he hopes Holmes will be able to resume throwing in the middle of this week.
With him sidelined, USC turned on Sunday to Forrest Koumas, who threw an inning in Wednesday’s win over Davidson — his first action since March 31, a layoff caused by elbow pain. Koumas acquitted himself well Sunday. He allowed no runs and five hits in 5 1/3 scoreless innings.
Closer Matt Price then stretched himself to 71 pitches in 3 2/3 innings and was not his usual dominant self, as he allowed seven runs on 10 hits. But USC’s bats bailed him out — an encouraging development for a team that has struggled offensively at times this season.
Nobody was better during this important trip than freshman catcher Grayson Greiner, who drove in two runs on Sunday and six in the series.
On USC’s postgame radio show, Greiner said something about his weekend that also rings true for his team right now: “I felt the most comfortable I felt all year.”