Gamecocks Jump into Southeastern Conference Slate vs. Defending Champ Florida
First pitch for both Saturday's doubleheader and Sunday's single game is 1 p.m.
March 6, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. -
After seeing four games taken away due to the weather, the Gamecocks will open Southeastern Conference play after an unscheduled week-long break on Saturday against second-ranked Florida. First pitch for both Saturday's doubleheader and Sunday's single game are set for 1 p.m. at Beckham Field.
Weather Wreaks Havoc on Gamecocks' Schedule
One large weather system has taken four games off South Carolina's schedule over the last week. Right after completing its second game in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Leadoff Classic, rain started falling in Columbus, Ga., and caused the cancellation of the rest of the Gamecocks' contests at South Commons Stadium. The back end of that front brought snow into the southeast, dumping over a half-foot of the white stuff in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Sunday night. As of Tuesday afternoon, that had yet to clear, once again wiping the previously-annual border battle between North and South Carolina from happening. The four rainouts matches the number of games the Garnet and Black lost during the entire 2008 season due to weather.
South Carolina Splits its Games in Rain-Shortened NFCA Leadoff Classic
Once again, things were altered for all teams scheduled to compete in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Leadoff Classic, but it was more than just rain that altered the 2009 version. Snow wiped out the reworked Sunday schedule as well. The Gamecocks were among a handful of the 21 teams that got in at least two games during the tournament. South Carolina split its Friday outings, downing defending Conference USA champ Houston, 2-1, before falling to Illinois State, 7-0.
Garnet and Black Practicing (Some) Patience
A few of the Gamecocks have been patient at the plate this season, as three are averaging seeing at least four pitches per plate appearance. Surprisingly, a freshman, Evan Childs, leads the way with 4.6 pitches per plate appearance. Just behind her is senior Jacqueline Wetherbee, who has seen 4.4 pitches in the early going. Sophomore Jill Semento stands third at 4.0, while two others are right behind at 3.9.
Stubblefield Has Strong Weekend in Gamecock Invitational
Freshman centerfielder Kristen Stubblefield was a leader in the lineup during the home tournament, hitting a team-best .417 in the Gamecock Invitational. The Corona, Calif., native also had an .833 slugging percentage after hitting her first career triple and home run during the weekend. Her four runs scored also topped the team, while her three RBI stood second. The freshman also had a sacrifice fly and a sac bunt as well during the tourney.
For the season, Stubblefield has totaled six runs batted in and seven runs scored, both in the top three on the team.
Returners Reasserting Place on Top, At Least on a Few Lists
After letting the freshmen get all the publicity during the first weekend, the returning Gamecocks have come back to put themselves on top of many of the statistical lists through 14 games. Senior Ashton Payne leads the team in five major categories, including batting average, slugging percentage, hits, doubles and triples. Sophomore Jill Semento now leads the team in on-base percentage at .390. But the freshmen still hold leads in numerous categories. Lauren Lackey tops the squad with two steals, while Evan Childs holds down the top spot in runs, home runs and RBI. The freshmen pitchers continue to dominate their statistics, with Kierstyn White and Audrey Broyles leading in all positive categories.
Spreading Around the Love in Orlando
The Gamecocks went 5-0 in the UCF Early Bird Tournament, and they did it with a team approach. Only two starters on the weekend did not contribute a run, either by scoring one or driving one in, during the event. Freshman Evan Childs scored three runs to lead the team, while another rookie, Lauren Lackey, had the most RBI on the team while in Mickey Mouse's part of the country.
What a Debut!
Freshman Audrey Broyles had a day for the ages in her first game donning the Garnet and Black. The Pembroke Pines, Fla., freshman tossed a complete game, allowing just one earned run while fanning 14 Cougars. That is currently the highest number of K's recorded by a Gamecock in their debut, with the current records going back to 1996. What made Broyles' first game even better was her day at the plate. She went 1-for-3 with a two-RBI single in the first to help put the Gamecocks on top, 4-0.
Broyles continued her good work in the circle, going 3-0 during the UCF Early Bird Tournament. She tossed her first complete-game shutout while compiling 10 K's in the win over Bowling Green. Broyles also got wins in relief against Bradley and Texas-Arlington.
Is the Second Game of the Year Still a Debut if It's on the First Day?
Evan Childs came through with a big contest in just her second in a South Carolina jersey. The Conway, S.C., product hit two game-tying home runs in the Gamecocks' 6-4 win in the second game of the doubleheader on Saturday against the College of Charleston. The first was a solo shot in the third to answer the Cougars' run in the top half of the frame. The last one was a three-run blast that knotted the contest at 4-4 in the fifth. That set the stage for Laura Mendes' go-ahead sacrifice fly in the sixth that was the difference in the contest.
The Gamecocks Have Lots of Youth . . .
Head coach Joyce Compton has never had 10 newcomers to her program in one year until this year. Nine freshman (matching a record from 2005) and one transfer make up one of the youngest teams Compton has ever fielded. The most inexperience will be in the circle, as redshirt sophomore Krystle Robinson is the only pitcher back. She made 16 starts and 24 appearances overall. Three true freshmen and one transfer will vie to fill those over 220 or nearly 70 percent of the innings lost from last season.
. . . But They Also Bring Back Lots of Experience
But this is no green group as a whole. Out of 423 starts in the nine batting spots, over 67 percent of those starts return. The returning catchers started all but two games last season, most of any spot. Three returners started all but four games in left field, which stands second. At shortstop, junior Lindsay Walker started 41 of the 47 games, the third-highest percentage on the team. The position losing the most starts are right field (32), third base (30) and first base (24).
More Parts Mean More Lineups? Stay Tuned
Last season, the Gamecocks seemingly never ran out the same nine in the same order. Reality was not far from the truth, as head coach Joyce Compton used the same defensive alignment in back-to-back games just three times all season. In all, South Carolina utilized 38 different units around the pitcher. Lineup order was a different matter entirely, as 43 different orders were trotted out in the 47-game season. But even with the larger roster (by three), there is only one more position player on the roster compared to 2008. Four of the additions will take the place of two pitchers, while six freshman position players take over for five departed seniors who played the field last year.
Through the first 14 games, South Carolina has utilized 12 different defensive alignments and 13 different batting orders.
Early Look at Career List Possibilities in 2009
A few Gamecocks are looking to move onto or move up on some career charts as we start 2009. Senior Ashton Payne has already got spots in the top 10 in stolen bases and triples, and she's close to adding hits and batting average to her list. She needs 19 hits in 2009 to tie for 10th all time with Debralee Troesh, while eight batting average points would push her ahead of Toinette Reed into 10th there. She needs one steal to tie for eighth with Dana Fulmer. Payne now has fourth place to herself on the triples list, but she would have to break the NCAA single-season record for triples to move any higher.
A couple of others are already eyeing positions in different charts. Senior Jacqueline Wetherbee needs three round-trippers to tie Jana Zimmerman and current assistant coach Adrianna Baggetta for ninth all-time on the home-run charts. And sophomore Jill Semento is close to landing on a painful list, as three more hit-by-pitches will put her in a tie for eighth with 10 in her short career.
Carolina in the Month of March Under Joyce Compton
In the Joyce Compton era, Carolina is 458-143 (.762) during the third month of the year. In 2008, South Carolina owned a 9-7 mark in March.
South Carolina in the SEC Stat Rankings (as of March 2)
The Gamecocks stand 10th in batting average at .245 as a team. They are also 11th in both on-base percentage (.313) and slugging percentage (.329). The squad has laid down 15 sacrifices and connected for six sacrifice flies, both good for fifth in the league. In the circle, things look much better. South Carolina's team ERA is fourth in the league behind top-10 teams Florida, Alabama and Tennessee. The four saves as a staff is the most in the conference. And the team's fielding percentage stands sixth, just behind Georgia. The Gamecocks have turned an SEC-best eight double plays.
The pitchers have many rankings in the top of the league. Audrey Broyles ranks fourth (just behind Alabama's Kelsi Dunne) in ERA. Broyles' 54 strikeouts rank eighth. White's three saves has her tied for the league lead. Offensively, only two Gamecocks have broken into the top 10. Ashton Payne's two triples and Jill Semento's two sacrifice flies are both tied for third.
Now There's Some Competition
South Carolina has seen some top competition from around the country and had even more games against ranked foes rained out over the past week. This week, the squad was scheduled to face the favorites in both the SEC and the ACC. Florida was picked to repeat as champions of the SEC earlier in the year by the coaches.
South Carolina Picked to Finish Fourth in SEC East
In what should be familiar to Gamecock fans, the Southeastern Conference coaches selected the squad to finish fourth in the SEC Eastern Division. This is the sixth-consecutive year that South Carolina has ranked fourth in the preseason polling of the league's managers. Florida was chosen to win the East and the overall title, while Tennessee was picked second. Georgia was selected third, while Kentucky came in fifth. Alabama was the coaches' choice to win the SEC West this season.
Some of Gamecock Freshmen to See Familiar Faces in Other Dugout
Audrey Broyles and Kandyce Redondo, teammates for the past eight years on a softball diamond somewhere, will see one of their graduating class members this weekend when the Gators come to town, but that won't be the only familiar face on the other side. Alicia Sisco, who has played in seven games for Florida, hails from the same high school as the Gamecocks' duo, Pembroke Pines Charter in south Florida. Three other Gators hail from the general area, including freshman infielder Lauren Heil and sophomores Tiffany DeFelice and Stephanie Brombacher.
The South Carolina freshmen from California, Lauren Lackey and Kristen Stubblefield, should also be able to renew friendships or rivalries as well. The pair, who are from towns about 30 minutes apart southeast of Los Angeles, will see many players from their general area on the weekend, as six Gators list hometowns within a 40-mile radius of Corona, Stubblefield's home. Kelsey Bruder went to a different high school than Stubblefield, but Corona is listed as both's hometown, while Aja Paculba and Lackey are from neighboring towns. Of the eight Gators from the Golden State, only Kristine Priebe and Francesca Enea are from outside that radius from Corona.
Gamecocks All-Time vs. Florida
South Carolina and Florida have met 43 times previously since the SEC started sponsoring softball in 1997, and the Gators have gotten the better of the series, 24-19. Florida has captured 14 straight dating back to the 2003 SEC Tournament in Plant City, Fla. In Columbia, the Blue and Orange had taken 11 of the 19 meetings. The Gamecocks swept the Gators in 2003 at Beckham Field, which also marks the last wins in the series for the Garnet and Black.
Scouting the Florida Gators
A consensus No. 2 team according to the polls, Florida brings a 19-2 mark into SEC play. As expected, pitching has been the strength for the preseason favorite for the SEC title. The Gators lead the league with a 0.65 team ERA. Senior All-American Stacey Nelson has a 0.39 ERA, striking out 88 batters in 71 innings of work. She has gone 9-2 and is the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week. But her understudy, sophomore Stephanie Brombacher, has been nearly as remarkable. She sports a 0.95 ERA to go with her perfect 10-0 record. She won the SEC Pitcher of the Week award once already and has a better strikeout ratio, fanning 75 in 59 innings. Combined, the duo has allowed just 72 hits in 130 innings while walking just 17 batters all year. Defense definitely helps out the pitchers, as the Gators have a .978 fielding percentage, making 12 errors on the season.
The squad is not a bunch of slouches at the plate, either. Francesca Enea, the current SEC Player of the Week, leads the team and stands fourth in the league with a .492 batting average. The junior has already mashed seven homers and driven in 32 runs. She's third in the SEC stats in both slugging percentage (.898) and on-base percentage (.581). Aja Paculba gets things started up top, scoring a league-best 26 runs already. She has a .525 on-base percentage, second on the squad. Eight Gators hit over .300, while six have double-digit RBI.
The Last Time - South Carolina vs. Florida - March 26, 2008
South Carolina fought hard against No. 3/4 Florida, but a walk-off home run by the Gators' Ali Gardiner dropped the Gamecocks, 1-0, in game two of the doubleheader at Pressly Stadium. Gardiner broke the scoreless tie and ended the game in the seventh with a shot over the center ield wall with one down in the frame. She had both of the Gator hits in the contest, as senior Melissa Hendon picked up the hard-luck loss.
Did You Know?
This will be for some miscellanous facts learned this season. First up, did you know the trip from Columbia to Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, S.C., lasts exactly as long as the movie Major League?