USC looking for little more offense

USC's Jackie Bradley Jr. has been one of the team's few offensive bright spots lately.

COLUMBIA -- Even in the glow of getting the school's first home regional since 2007, South Carolina baseball coach Ray Tanner couldn't hide his frustration about what had happened several days earlier.

Going two-and-out in the SEC tournament -- scoring one run in 21 innings, in particular -- stuck with Tanner through the long, holiday weekend as he watched his team practice, sometimes twice a day.

In fact, it was the Gamecocks that had to sort of urge their coach to let the past go and focus on impending postseason play.

"I get the sense they have (moved past it). I've gotten the sense from them that it was time for me to move past it," Tanner said. "And that's good. That's good. It was a little frustrating for me. I was irritated by that.

"I don't like being one of the first two teams sent home from that tournament. That didn't set well with me."

Regional play begins Friday at Carolina Stadium, with the top-seeded Gamecocks (43-15) playing No. 4 seed Bucknell at 7 p.m. Virginia Tech and The Citadel start at 2 p.m.

Tanner had threatened the Gamecocks, who went 21-9 in the SEC in the regular season, with two-a-day practices if they were prematurely bounced from Hoover, Ala. He made good on that promise, too, after USC was the first team dismissed.

"Honestly, I wasn't good. I'm not trying to hide that. I wasn't good. I wasn't pleased with the fact we were here practicing," Tanner said. "But, if we weren't playing, we needed to be practicing. We went at it."

South Carolina practiced five times in three days, concluding the mini-camp with a Sunday scrimmage.

"I thought the players did a nice job," he said. "I thought it was meaningful."

In particular, Tanner is hopeful the stretch worked to awaken bats that have been recently dormant.

Sure, the SEC tournament sounded alarms at deafening volumes. But the struggles started well before Hoover.

The Gamecocks had four runs on 10 hits in the Saturday and Sunday losses at Kentucky, the team's first SEC series setback of the year.

It bounced back in a big way at Arkansas the following weekend, but the bats -- and in particular the ability to get timely hits -- went back into hibernation in the pivotal games of the Florida series.

In the Thursday and Friday losses that determined the SEC's regular-season champion, the Gamecocks scored two runs in each game.

They often left runners in scoring position, sometimes with fewer than two outs. The same thing played out in the SEC tourney.

South Carolina had its chances against even SEC pitcher of the year Drew Pomeranz. The Ole Miss ace allowed only two bunt singles in seven shutout innings in Columbia earlier in the year, but the Gamecocks got him for six hits in seven innings in Hoover.

Still, the team pushed no one across and was shut out for the first time in 154 games, going back to April 2008 at Georgia. The following day, a late-inning solo home run from Brady Thomas was the only thing that prevented a second consecutive shutout.

South Carolina and Auburn were tied 1-1 until the Tigers broke it in the 12th inning.

The Gamecocks, as a team, went 14-for-75 (.187) in those two games.

Pitching is the team's calling card, but the offense has dropped to .299 for the year after getting well above .300 for a long stretch. And that's with Jackie Bradley, up to .372, tearing the cover off the ball.

It's possible that a long weekend to clear their heads was a good thing.

"We've been kind of scuffling lately with the bats," leadoff hitter Whit Merrifield said. "I think it'll be good to have the week off to get back in the cages and get back to doing what we did earlier in the year."

Merrifield is down to .329, lower than you'd ever expect to see his average. He is hitless in his past five after he had one hitless game in the first half of the season, thanks to two extended hitting streaks.

"I feel good up there," he said. "I'm just not really capitalizing on the pitches I'm getting to hit."

Others have said the same.

Beyond practice, is there anything South Carolina can do to hear the ping of aluminum more this weekend? Perhaps.

Tanner is toying this week with the idea of moving some players around in the lineup, something he did quite a bit during the early and middle portions of the season. He tried to set things more toward the end, but that's when the team's hitting went south.

Tanner wouldn't yet name names, other than to say some players have been "quiet" the past 10-15 games.

Third baseman Adrian Morales leads the team with 45 RBIs, but he's dipped to .272 after going 2 for 20 since the first Florida game.

Second baseman Scott Wingo, surging at the plate early in the year, is 2 of his last 17. But Tanner loves Wingo's defense and energy.

Tanner also likes catcher Kyle Enders' leadership behind the plate, but he has one hit in his past 15 at-bats and Thomas (.333), the backup, has swung a hot bat at times this year.

"It might be time to try and get another guy in there," Tanner said, "to bring a little more offense."

Reach Travis Haney at thaney@postandcourier.com, check out the Gamecocks blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/gamecocks and follow him on Twitter (@gamecocksblog).