USC makes push for crown in SEC

South Carolina's L.B. Dantzler, right, celebrates a double to cap a four-run outburst and tie the game in the ninth inning against Georgia at Foley Field in Athens, Georgia, on Saturday, May 12, 2012. Georgia rallied to win, 6-5, in 10 innings. (Gerry Melendez/The State/MCT)

COLUMBIA — An already odd Southeastern Conference baseball season for South Carolina took a fittingly strange turn Sunday when the Gamecocks’ rubber game at Georgia was rained out. It will not be made up. So, USC will play 29 conference games this season rather than 30.

USC also played 29 in 2002 and 1998. Because weather sometimes forces a team to play a slightly shortened schedule, the SEC determines its regular season title and tournament seeding by winning percentage. USC has won or shared the regular season title three times — 2000, 2002 and 2011.

Coming out of the weekend, in which the Gamecocks went 1-1 at Georgia, they are 38-13 and 17-9 in the SEC (.654 winning percentage). Kentucky swept Alabama over the weekend and is 18-9 (.667). LSU, which is in the West Division, lost to Vanderbilt on Sunday and is 17-10 (.630). Florida beat Mississippi State on Sunday and is 16-11 (.593).

This weekend, USC finishes the regular season by hosting LSU in one of its three biggest series of the year, along with Florida and Clemson. The Gamecocks entered this past weekend ranked fourth nationally, while LSU was third. Florida this weekend will play at Auburn. Kentucky will visit Mississippi State. All three series begin Thursday and end Saturday.

Kentucky and Florida own tiebreakers over USC — which is used only for tournament seeding, because ties are not broken in sharing the regular season title — because the Gamecocks started their SEC schedule 1-5 by getting swept at Kentucky and going 1-2 against Florida.

USC this weekend must try to win at least two of three against LSU and root for Kentucky to lose two of three at Mississippi State. That would result in USC winning the regular season outright by finishing with a .655 winning percentage, compared to Kentucky’s .633. Even if Florida sweeps Auburn, the Gators would still finish at .633.

Because of Sunday’s rain-out, the Gamecocks still haven’t lost a series since Florida, on March 22-24. They won their next six series — including sweeps of Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama — then tied the Georgia series.

It seems appropriate that USC finished the Georgia series with yet another one-run game — a 6-5 loss Saturday in 10 innings. USC is now 11-10 in one-run games this season, compared to 13-3 last season. Moreover, 23.2 percent of last season’s games were decided by one run (16 of 69), compared to 41.2 percent of this season’s games (21 of 51).

So, it’s easy to imagine at least some of this weekend’s games against LSU coming down to the end. The Thursday and Friday games start at 7 p.m., with Thursday’s televised on Fox Sports Carolinas. The Saturday game begins at 1 p.m. and airs on ESPNU — a national showcase for a team that has delivered drama all season, from its sluggish start to its impressive turnaround to its final push for its fourth SEC championship.