USC faces last-place Missouri before potential clash for first in SEC

South Carolina outfielder Gene Cone enters the weekend with a 24-game hitting streak, two shy of the school record. (File/Wade Spees/Staff)

COLUMBIA — Gene Cone will be going for a record, and South Carolina will be looking to keep pace with Florida ahead of a big SEC showdown looming next weekend.

First, though, comes a three-game set against Missouri beginning at 7 p.m. Friday at Founders Park. The 12th-ranked Gamecocks (30-8, 11-4 SEC) rebounded from a series loss against Georgia with a 14-4 victory Wednesday over Furman, and now face a Tigers team knotted with Tennessee and Arkansas at the bottom of the SEC.

The Gamecocks are tied with No. 2 Florida for the conference lead, one game ahead of No. 3 Texas A&M. The Gators visit Columbia next weekend, but a more pressing matter for USC is a Missouri team that has lost four straight, but took three out of four games from South Carolina last season.

“I know their record doesn’t indicate great,” USC head coach Chad Holbrook said of the Tigers (20-18, 4-11). “But when you watch those kids pitch and the way they compete, our hands are going to be full. I know Missouri has our players’ attention.”

The Tigers do present a pair of solid weekend starters in right-handers Reggie McClain (3-2, 3.92 ERA) and Tanner Houck (4-3, 3.22). McClain beat the Gamecocks twice last year, his second victory ending USC’s season in the opening round of the SEC Tournament.

“Missouri can beat anybody, and that includes us, obviously,” said Holbrook, whose team is two wins from matching last season’s victory total. “McClain and Houck, they can stuff anybody on any given day.”

With a triple against Furman, Cone stretched his hitting streak to 24 games, pulling within one of the single-season school record set by Greg Keatley in 1976. The junior outfielder is two games from matching the school record of 26 set by Whit Merrifield over the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

“I just want him to have a great game,” Holbrook said. “... If he goes 0-0 with four walks and four stolen bases and two runs scored and we win (Friday), I think Gene will be very happy, and I’ll certainly be very happy.”

— The weekend pitching rotation pits USC’s Clarke Schmidt (8-1, 1.66) against McClain on Friday; Braden Webb (7-2, 3.46) against Houck in Saturday’s 4 p.m. game; and Adam Hill (5-0, 2.95) against Missouri lefty Michael Plassmeyer (3-3, 4.91) in Sunday’s 1:30 p.m. finale.

— Modifications to Founders Park will be among the matters discussed at Friday’s meeting of the USC Board of Trustees. A renovation of the player’s lounge and a media room addition will be presented to the Buildings and Grounds Committee for approval, according to the agenda.