COLUMBIA -- A year ago this time, Parker Bangs was basically the first, second and third option for South Carolina out of the bullpen. If Bangs couldn't get it done, it probably wasn't going to get done.
Wednesday, the junior was afforded the luxury of a start in left field. In 2010, Bangs has had much more of an impact as a hitter than a pitcher.
He's had 57 plate appearances, compared to 13 2/3 innings out of the bullpen. It's only a slight exaggeration to say 13 or so innings was a slow week for Bangs last season.
It's all a sign, a big one, of just how far the Gamecocks have come in a year with their pitching depth.
"It's unbelievable," said Bangs, who played five innings in left and then pitched a scoreless sixth Wednesday against Charleston Southern. "It's great to have 10 guys down there that can close the game out or come in, in a mop-up situation or a long-relief situation.
"It's awesome, just having so many options. It makes the team that much better."
You can certainly say that for midweek games. Wednesday's 10-2 victory against the Buccaneers ran USC's midweek record to a perfect 13-0 on the year, with only Furman remaining next week.
Midweek losses in 2009, including two to The Citadel, perhaps cost the Gamecocks a chance to host an NCAA regional. That won't be the case this season.
Having better arms -- and more of them -- has allowed for better pitching on the weekends and during the weeks.
"They've got a lot of quality arms," said CSU coach Stuart Lake, a former USC assistant. "It was hard enough for us to get our five hits."
With five saves and a 3.03 ERA in a bullpen-high 32 2/3 innings, Matt Price has been steady in emerging as the team's closer. John Taylor -- the side-arming preseason closer -- has come back from a slow start to register a 2.80 ERA in 19 1/3 innings, including a scoreless ninth Wednesday.
Jose Mata, another side-armer, picked up his sixth win Wednesday after a scoreless fifth inning. He has a minuscule 2.17 ERA in 29 innings.
Two midweek games a year ago would have caused heartburn, USC coach Ray Tanner said. This year? No sweat. The Gamecocks made it through without anyone getting taxed.
"It's so much better," Tanner said. "We were able to run some different guys out there. That's been a big difference."
Wednesday, South Carolina (38-11) got some pop it hasn't had too much of, hammering Bucs starter Charlie McCready for seven runs on nine hits -- including four home runs -- in 2 1/3 innings.
Adam Matthews, Bobby Haney, Christian Walker and Nick Ebert homered.
South Carolina had just 10 combined hits in Saturday and Sunday's losses at Kentucky -- the team's first SEC series loss of the season -- but the Gamecocks rebounded with 27 total runs on 30 combined hits against Wofford and Charleston Southern.
Meanwhile, USC isn't just deep with relievers; the staff's starters are also giving Tanner and pitching coach Mark Calvi something to consider entering this weekend's vital Arkansas series.
Veteran Jay Brown hasn't been all that effective in his Sunday starts, and now he's got some company for contention for that role.
Wednesday's starter, Tyler Webb, went four scoreless innings, an indication that the freshman left-hander will be available this weekend. Same goes for Tuesday's starter, sophomore lefty Nolan Belcher, who threw five no-hit innings in the 17-4 victory against Wofford.
After Webb's four innings, Mata and Bangs kept the Bucs off the board through six. A bases-loaded walk by Colby Holmes plated CSU's first run in the seventh.
Moncks Corner's Matt Still added a solo homer in the eighth off seldom-used USC reliever Patrick Sullivan.
Charleston Southern shuffles north for a three-game series at UNC Asheville this weekend.
Meanwhile, USC begins the first of two crucial weekend series that will determine where it ends up in the SEC -- and where it'll play its postseason baseball.
The Gamecocks are essentially locks to host a regional for the first time since 2007, but they're still very much alive in the hunt for a national seed, especially considering Arkansas and Florida, next week's opponent, are currently in the race for that, as well.