Gamecocks' first game on Friday at 3 p.m. against Tennessee State
Feb. 9, 2012
Palmetto Classic Central
Notes for Feb. 9
Parking Information for Beckham Field
Purchase Season Tickets Here
COLUMBIA, S.C. -
The South Carolina Gamecocks open their 39th season of intercollegiate softball by playing host to the Palmetto Classic at Beckham Field. Providing the opposition during the opening weekend will be Tennessee State on Friday, Western Kentucky and Winthrop on Saturday and Cleveland State on Sunday. All of South Carolina's games will have live audio at GamecocksOnline.com, while Gametracker live stats will be available for all 10 games this weekend.
Gamecocks' Weekend Schedule
Fri., Feb. 10 - Tennessee State, 3 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 11 - Western Kentucky, 12:30 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 11 - Winthrop, 3 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 12 - Cleveland State, 12:30 p.m.
Parking Information for Beckham Field
Fans have a new free parking option this season for Beckham Field. The parking garage on Heyward St. will be open for all home games, which is a short walk past the new Carolina Tennis Center down to the softball stadium. A full map can be seen in this Spurs Up Blog post.
A Much Better Showing in 2011
South Carolina posted one of the best turnarounds in the country last year, the first under Beverly Smith. The 12 1/2 game improvement tied for 12th in NCAA Division I, and the mark was the eighth best for a team that finished 2010 under .500.
Carolina in the Month of February
In the 20-plus years of starting the season in the second month of the year, Carolina is 146-68-1 (.681) during February. Last year, the Gamecocks went 9-4 during the season's opening month.
Gamecocks Among Most Experienced Teams in NCAA Division I
South Carolina brings back seven position starters from last year, only having to replace a majority of starts at catcher and designated player. When removing two players expected to sit out this year due to injury along with the starts by last year's seniors, the Gamecocks bring back 92.3 percent of their outfield starts and 84.8 percent of infield starts from third to first.
Offensive Improvement Easy to See from `10 to `11
The Garnet and Black tallied a batting average that is 51 points better than 2010 (.267-.216), an on-base percentage 54 points improved (.341-.287) and a slugging percentage 94 points better (.382-.288).From 2010 to 2011, the Gamecocks posted 89 more runs, 130 more hits, 14 more doubles, 10 more triples, 16 more homers, 36 more walks and 66 more stolen bases in `11. They also had 76 less strikeouts in 253 more at bats.
Offense (and Speed) Return Almost Fully from Last Year
South Carolina has a lot of offense returning from last year's team. In the major categories, the Gamecocks have at least two-thirds of their firepower back in every category except doubles and sacrifice flies. Most exciting is the 96 percent of stolen bases back from last year, the highest percentage of any spot. The chart in the PDF version of the notes linked above shows the full breakdown of what comes back for Beverly Smith's team.
Record Speed in 2011
Last season, South Carolina recorded 79 stolen bases, tying the 1992 team for the second most in program history. That trailed only the 1995 squad (87) and marked just the fourth time in recorded history (since 1982) that the Gamecocks averaged over a steal per game (1992, 1994, 1995). The 2011 team did set one speed record, attempting to steal 99 stolen bases. The team 79.8 percent success rate ranks third in the last decade.
Returning junior Hannah Milks had her name written in the single-season record books twice for her work on the basepaths last year. Her 0.32 steals per game ranked ninth in Gamecock history, while her and senior Lauren Lackey's perfect percentage became the sixth and seventh such seasons at South Carolina. Milks stole 16 bases without being caught, one more than Lackey.
Gamecocks Set Painful Record in 2011
South Carolina, as a team, took more hit by pitches than in any season previous, getting hit 37 times. The previous mark came in 2009, when the team took 32 pitches off their collective bodies. Those are the only two seasons in record of over 30 HBPs.
And the Pitching Has Picked Up, Too
The Gamecock offense was not the only thing that improved from `10 to `11. The team's ERA finished more than a run and a half better than in `10 (3.31-4.97). South Carolina tossed four more complete games and seven more shutouts than the year before, and opponents hit 66 points lower (.253-.319) against the team. In roughly 60 more innings, the Gamecocks compiled four more strikeouts and just one more walk.
Plenty of Pitching Opportunities for All
Unlike the offense, there is a lot of pitching to fill in for the Gamecocks this spring. The breakdown chart is in the notes linked at the top of this story.
Horseshoes, Hand Grenades, Etc.
In last year's 26-30 season, South Carolina went 7-11 in one-run games and 1-3 in extra-inning affairs. Turning half of those one-run losses into wins would move the Gamecocks a long way to their goal of NCAA Tournament eligibility.
South Carolina Made Defenses Work in `11
The Gamecocks did a great job putting balls in play during 2011, posting the least number of strikeouts as a team in the SEC (230). That played a role in South Carolina's offensive resurgence.
There's Plenty of Depth Again
South Carolina's softball roster this season is comprised of 22 student-athletes, one less than last year. And after a year of work for 16 of those, there is a viable backup at every position who could see time for a variety of reasons. Two players, Kelley Dillon and Julie Sarratt, are likely out for the year due to offseason surgeries.
Coaches Know a Bit about Winning
Last season was outside of the norm for the Gamecock coaching staff. Both head coach Beverly Smith and assistant coach Janelle Breneman came down from North Carolina, which has been ranked in the top 25 in each of their last five seasons, while the Tar Heels made NCAA Tournament appearances eight times during Smith's tenure. Calvin Beamon also knows a litle about winning, claiming crowns at all three of his amatuer stops. A high school state champion at Smoky Hill High School in Cherry Creek, Colo., Beamon won a JUCO title at the College of Southern Nevada and the College World Series during his year at Texas.
South Carolina Picked to Finish Fifth in SEC East
In the poll of Southeastern Conference coaches prior to the season, South Carolina finished fifth in the SEC Eastern Division. Florida was the pick to win the East, while Tennessee ranked second. Kentucky edged out Georgia for the third spot. Alabama was the coaches' choice to win the SEC West, while Florida was crowned the favorite for the overall title this season by one vote over Tennessee.
Almost Entirely Unique Field for Gamecocks This Weekend
South Carolina will face three opponents this weekend for the first time in program history. South Carolina has never played Cleveland State, Tennessee State or Western Kentucky in softball. The final team of the tournament is one the Gamecocks know all too well. Winthrop and the Gamecocks have battled 51 times previously, which makes the Eagles the sixth most-played opponent in history. Only Furman (67), North Carolina (60), Coastal Carolina (55), Florida (52) and Georgia (52) have played softball against the Garnet and Black more.
Scouting the Tennessee State Tigers
Tennessee State brings back seven players from a team that went 11-43, but two of the top three hitters are back for the Tigers. Tedra Alford led the team in batting average and runs in 2011, while Kelly Troglin ranked third in batting average when at the plate. Six freshmen and a transfer join the roster.
Three of the Tigers' four pitchers return from a year ago, but they lost ace Caitlin Eaton, who led the team in ERA, wins and innings. Olivia Gamache and Troglin both compiled ERAs in the 7.00's, but Troglin did have more strikeouts than walks, albeit just 46 strikeouts in 110 innings. Freshmen Savannah Gutierrez and Shea Morris could provide some relief in the circle.
Scouting the Western Kentucky Lady Toppers
The team that most mirrors the Gamecocks entering the season, Western Kentucky brings back nine starters from a team that went 30-29 last season but 9-15 in the Sun Belt Conference. The Lady Toppers strength shows at the plate, as they have not lost a significant offensive contributor from a year ago. Karavin Dew leads those returners, as the first-team All-Sun Belt catcher led WKU in batting average (.341) and triples (5) as a sophomore. Also back are sluggers Kelsie Mattox and Amanda Thomas, both who had eight homers last season and 36 and 35 RBI, respectively. Katrina Metoyer also returns after ranking second on the team in batting average (.335) and on-base percentage (.405) while leading the way with 14 stolen bases.
Western Kentucky brings back three of its four pitchers, including the two juniors that threw over 75 percent of the Lady Toppers' innings. Mallorie Sulaski ranks as the ace, posting a 2.52 ERA in 172.1 innings. The lefty struck out 80 but walked 78 on the year. Kim Wagner also comes back, posting a 4.09 ERA in 130 innings last season. She fanned 88 but walked 42. WKU also hopes to sure up its defense, posting a .949 team fielding percentage last year. As a freshman, Thomas committed 26 errors, most on the team.
Scouting the Winthrop Eagles
Winthrop returns many of its top contributors from last year's squad that went 16-36 last season. Mark Cooke's bunch should be led by Chelsey Schoenfeldt both at the plate and in the circle. The junior from Canada led the Eagles with a 3.43 ERA in 161.1 innings of work while also posting a .358 batting average, 12 doubles, seven homers and 28 RBI, all team bests. Megan Chapman hit .318 last year, the only other Eagle to post a batting average over .300, while leading the team with 15 stolen bases.
Natalie Becker returns to help out Schoenfeldt in the circle. She had a 3.64 ERA in 100 innings, fanning 107 batters but walking 75.
Series History Versus the Eagles
South Carolina is 42-8-1 all-time against their rivals from Rock Hill in a series that dates back to 1975. In games that are known to have been played in Columbia, the Gamecocks are 25-2, splitting the two games at Beckham Field last season.
Last Meeting vs. Winthrop - May 4, 2011
A season-high 13 hits for South Carolina led to an 8-3 win over Winthrop in front of 545 fans at Beckham Field. Shortstop Samie Garcia led the Gamecocks with three hits, while centerfielder Lauren Lackey had two, including her fourth triple of the year, and scored twice. eftfielder Kaitlin Westfall also posted two hits, including a three-run homer.
Scouting the Cleveland State Vikings
The Vikings return five starters from last year's club that went 29-21 on the year, however no returning starter hit over .300. Their best hitter overall returns, however, as Dara Toman led Cleveland State with a .568 slugging percentage, topping the team with 10 homers and 27 RBI. Two of the Vikings' top base-stealing threats departed, but Andrea Nagy did steal 10 bases in 14 tries.
Cleveland State must replace over 300 innings of work, 289 of which were thrown by ace Tess Sito, who is now at Georgia. Megan Bashak is the most promising of the returning pitchers, as she posted a 2.59 ERA in 27 innings, striking out 17 while walking eight in her limited work. Three other pitchers, Alex Radjen, Kelsi Reed and Sarah Shields, also join the roster.