COLUMBIA — Physically, leaving behind their worst loss in nine years was easy enough. South Carolina’s baseball team bused home from Charlotte late Wednesday night, and the next day the Gamecocks were on the road again for a practice at Georgia before this weekend’s SEC series.
But mentally? That 15-0 defeat to North Carolina, in a sold-out Triple-A ballpark on national television, might be a bit tougher to shake.
No. 5 USC was outplayed in every facet by the 14th-ranked Tar Heels, suffering its worst loss since 2007 in what was supposed to be a marquee mid-week matchup in Charlotte’s BB&T Ballpark. The game was postponed a day due to weather concerns, leaving the Gamecocks little time to mope — by Thursday afternoon they were in Athens, Ga., practicing for Friday’s 7 p.m. opener against the Bulldogs.
“The opponent played at a high level, and we got our butts kicked. Sometimes that happens in this sport,” head coach Chad Holbrook said after the game. “You find out who you are by the way you bounce back, and hopefully we’ll bounce back the right way. We have bounced back, and we’ve acted the part in the way we’ve handled adversity up to this point. We’ll see how we handle this one.”
South Carolina (28-6, 10-2 SEC) has lost consecutive games just once this season, dropping the final two contests against Clemson in early March. As bad as it was, the loss to the Tar Heels didn’t impact USC’s standing in conference play, where it holds a two-game lead entering this weekend’s series with Georgia (18-14, 4-8).
Even so, Wednesday may have exposed some weaknesses — like a USC bullpen that struggled to produce effective left-handers in the middle innings when North Carolina blew the game open, and a lineup which lacks some punch with slugger John Jones mired in a 3-for-27 slump. Jones, once the SEC’s leading hitter, hasn’t had a multi-hit game since March 31.
“We’ve been pretty good offensively all year long, and we’ve found ways to win when we weren’t good offensively,” Holbrook said. “We’re in a little bit of a lull offensively right now, and hopefully we’ll pick it back up and be the team we think we are offensively. Jones has led us for most of the season, and he’s scuffling a little bit. Somebody’s got to pick him up.”
USC will have the luxury of its strong weekend rotation at Georgia, beginning with ace Clarke Schmidt (7-1, 1.77 ERA) in Friday’s opener. After their worst loss since a 16-1 setback against Auburn exactly nine years earlier, the Gamecocks couldn’t get back to SEC play quickly enough.
“We can think about this on the bus ride home,” outfielder Alex Destino said following the game. “But after that, we just need to flush it. We need to be hungry to get another win. We need to address these things in practice, and then come out and play like we normally do on Friday night.”