COLUMBIA, S.C. -
South Carolina (16-6) returns to the familiar confines of historic Beckham Field for a six-game home stretch, opening with a three-game Southeastern Conference series against Arkansas (16-4, 0-2 SEC). Game times are set for 6 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday, with Gametracker live stats and a live audio stream available at GamecocksOnline.com.
Recapping The Road Trip
Returning home for the first time in seven games, the Gamecocks went 5-2 during their three-state, seven-game road swing. Twice, South Carolina run-ruled its foe, while the Garnet & Black also capured two one-run wins in comeback fashion. The two losses came on the end of the trip at Coastal Carolina, the first of those a one-run setback.
Seven Games of HR Equals 2009 Season Total
South Carolina combined to hit 13 homers in the seven-game stretch from Feb. 28-March 4. That total matches what the 2009 team did in 45 games that season and surpassed the outputs of both 2008 and 2010. Twenty-two games into 2012, South Carolina has hit 23 homers, two shy of the 2011 team's total. The program record is 38 long balls in a season, set in 2003.
Garcia Keeps It Going
Shortstop Samie Garcia has a 21-game hitting streak heading into the weekend set against Arkansas, the longest for a Gamecock since Ashton Payne's 18-game skein in 2008. Garcia leads the team and ranks third in the SEC with a .467 batting average. South Carolina's leadoff hitter has reached base at a .579 clip when coming to the plate to start a frame.
In front of her family and the largest crowd of the weekend at the Highlander Classic, Garcia posted a 3-for-4 day with the game-tying RBI double in the 3-2 comeback win over UC Davis. And during the Blue & Gold Feisberg Memorial, she led the team with nine RBI in the event. Her grand slam versus Providence helped propel South Carolina to the 9-1 (5) win.
Westfall A Double Machine in Early Going . . .
Senior leftfielder Kaitlin Westfall leads the SEC with 10 doubles this season, matching P.J. Fulmer's team-leading total from last season. Westfall has three more than her closest competition in the SEC, Arkansas's Amanda Guile. Five of Westfall's came in the Blue & Gold Feisberg Memorial, as she posted two each in wins over Illinois-Chicago and Villanova. If Westfall gets five more, she'd have one of the top 10 seasons for doubles in Gamecock Softball history. Georgia's Megan Wiggins posted 23 to lead the SEC in 2011.
While Lackey Likes Stretching It to Three . . .
Westfall's teammate and fellow outfielder Lauren Lackey has three triples on the year, tying for second in the SEC. Lackey is looking to be the first Gamecock since Ashton Payne in 2007-08 to lead the team in triples in consecutive seasons. Tied with former All-American Tiff Tootle for 12th on the Gamecocks' career triples chart with eight, one more would push Lackey into a tie for ninth.
Childs Prefers to Trot
Senior third baseman Evan Childs has tallied six homers on the year, the last two coming on consecutive nights against Charleston Southern and Charlotte (2/28-29). With 12 in her career, she's tied for 10th on South Carolina's all-time list with Adrianna Baggetta and Jana Zimmerman. She's vying to be the first Gamecock since McKenna Hughes (2004-07) to lead the team in homers twice in her career. Her next homer will put her on the single-season top-10 chart.
Carolina in the Month of March
Since 1984, the Gamecocks are 419-212-3 (.663) in the third month of the year. Last season, the mark was 8-11 in March for South Carolina.
Early Season Schedule Provided Tests
While the first glance at South Carolina's pre-conference schedule may think that it should be all easy games, closer examination says otherwise. Three of the contests came against defending conference champions and NCAA Tournament teams in Illinois-Chicago (Horizon), Jacksonville (Atlantic Sun) and Portland State (Pacific Coast Softball). The Gamecocks went 2-1 in those games, including shutting out the UIC Flames.
Hits Kept Coming vs. Charlotte
South Carolina posted 18 hits in the victory at Charlotte on Feb. 29. That mark is the best since 2005, when the Gamecocks had 20 in a 15-2 win over South Dakota State.
Hawkins Providing Thump
Sophomore Chelsea Hawkins has provided a lot of power for the Gamecocks this season, hitting five homers already. She's two shy of making the top-10 single-season charts at South Carolina for homers. She's also driven in 19 runs and sluged at a .705 mark, both second on the team. The third-ranked Gamecock in batting average (.393), she's also fourth in on-base percentage (.439). The only blemish is the 15 strikeouts in 61 at bats, but the power more than justifies a few K's.
White Getting the Chance to Start and Finish
Senior pitcher Kierstyn White tossed her first career shutout on the trip to Miami. She blanked defending Horizon League champs Illinois-Chicago, coming within two outs of a no-hitter. The two-hit blanking stands out even more, as White tossed 74 pitches in the seven-inning affair.
In the past, White closed out other pitcher's starts, finishing 36 games over her first two years, Now, she has a chance to start and finish them, posting five complete games in 10 starts in `12.
South Carolina Offense Posts Back-to-Back 10+ Run Games
South Carolina rebounded from a two-hit effort in the first game against Charleston Southern to post consecutive 10+ run games. The Gamecocks rebounded to with a 11-2 win in five innings over the Buccaneers on the nightcap of Feb. 28 before posting a 13-7 win at Charlotte on Feb. 29. The last time South Carolina scored 10+ in consecutive games was on April 3, 2005 when the Gamecocks run-ruled Kentucky in both halves of a doubleheader in Lexington by scores of 12-2 and 10-1.
On five occasions, the Gamecocks have posted double-digit runs, matching the team's best in the SEC era, hit by last year's squad and the 1997 league champions. The most recent team with more than five is the 1996 group, which posted 10 10+ run outings.
Big RBI Games Already Surpassing Last Year
The Gamecocks have posted four four-RBI games already in 2012, doubling what the team did in the whole of 2011. Sophomores Chelsea Hawkins (2/11) and Dana Hathorn (2/22) both drove home four in wins over Winthrop, while junior Samie Garcia had a grand slam in the win over Providence (2/17). Senior Evan Childs had four in the second game of the Charleston Southern doubleheader.
Strong Weekend Propels Quartet Onto Gamecock Invite Team
Even in a rain-shortened event, the Gamecocks stood out, running to another title and claiming four spots on the all-tournament team. Samie Garcia earned the Gamecock Invitational MVP after going 7-for-11 in the event and leading the Gamecocks in runs and stolen bases. She was joined by three seniors: Evan Childs (three runs, four RBI, double and homer), Lauren Lackey (.545 batting average, two stolen bases) and Kierstyn White (two complete game wins).
South Carolina Defense Downfall in Losses
A common strand ran through the first three Gamecock losses: defensive errors and unearned runs. South Carolina committed seven errors combined and allowed nine unearned runs. Only the Tennessee State game would have stay tied without those runs; the rest would all favor the Gamecocks.
Last season, South Carolina went 21-19 when making one or no errors. That record fell to 5-7 in games with two errors. When the Gamecocks made three or more errors, they went 0-4. This season, the Gamecocks are 13-3 when making one or less errors but 3-3 when committing two or more.
The Long Ball Proving to Be Bellweather Again for Gamecocks
The 2012 Gamecocks have tallied 23 homers on the year, two shy of last year's mark which was the best in six years. And yet again, the homers point to good things for the team. South Carolina is 12-2 when sending at least one ball out, while it is 2-4 when going without a triple or homer. Last season, the Gamecocks went 17-6 in games in which they hit a homer. In 2011, South Carolina won just three games when the team did not record at least one triple or one home run.
Rother Getting in Lineup, on Base
Freshman Lacey Rother has shown a knack for getting on base, posting a .500 on-base percentage in her 18 games so far, 10 of which have been starts. She's drawn nine walks, third most on the team, in 34 plate appearances, 41 percent of senior Kaitlin Westfall's trips to the dish, who has a team-best 11 walks.
Rother hit her first home run in the Maine win at the Highlander Classic in California, her home state.
Howser a Bullpen Ace in Early Going
Freshman Katelynn Howser has done some of her best work in 2012 out of the bullpen. In nine relief appearances, she's picked up three saves, which ranks ninth on South Carolina's single-season chart, and two of her six wins. In the 26 innings of relief, she's posted a 1.35 ERA. In her six, she's 4-1, tossing four complete games, but posting a 3.07 ERA in 29.2 innings.
Hathorn Leads Gamecocks Past Winthrop
Sophomore second baseman Dana Hathorn has provided stellar defense and clutch offense during her time at South Carolina. In the Feb. 22 win over Winthrop, Hathorn provided two two-run doubles to help lead the team to a 9-1 win in five innings over the Eagles.
Quartet Claim Palmetto Classic All-Tourney Honors
South Carolina took home the team title from the Palmetto Classic, and four Gamecocks led the way on the all-tournament team. Senior Kaitlin Westfall claimed MVP honors, leading South Carolina with five RBI on the weekend. Joining her on the team was another senior, Evan Childs, who posted a huge day in the win over Cleveland State. Sophomore Dana Hathorn captured a spot, collecting a hit in each of the four games, while redshirt junior Audrey Broyles also garnered recognition. Broyles had the complete-game win over Western Kentucky, an eight-inning affair.
Broyles Goes the Distance and More
Redshirt junior Audrey Broyles passed a personal milestone in her first start of 2012, tossing 117 pitches in the complete-game victory over Western Kentucky. That marked the first time since 2010 that Broyles had thrown that many pitches, when she threw 120 in the loss at Florida Atlantic. Broyles felt so strong that she tossed another 1.1 innings against Winthrop immediately following. She pitched twice at UC Riverside, picking up wins in both games while lowering her ERA to 1.95.
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.
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.
Hannah Milks wrote her name 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 Among Most Experienced Teams in NCAA Division I
South Carolina has 10 seniors listed on the roster for 2012, which is believed to be the most in NCAA Division I this year. Seven position starters return from last year, losing starters 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.
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. The Gamecocks matched their extra-inning win total from last season with the 5-4 victory in eight over Western Kentucky and stand at 3-2 in one-run games.
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 was ranked in the top 25 in each of their last five seasons in Chapel Hill, 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.
Scouting the Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas enters the weekend with a 16-4 record but 0-2 in the SEC after dropping its league-opening doubleheader at home to Ole Miss. Hitting has been the strong suit of the Razorbacks, posting a team on-base percentage of .415 and slugging percentage of .504. Speed is not a large part of the Arkansas offense, with the team stealing 15 bases so far. Sophomore left fielder Ashley Martindale leads the squad with five.
Power has been the biggest part of the lineup, with five players with three or more blasts. The offensive leader is freshman outfielder Devon Wallace, who has a .377/.577/.623 line this season. She's tallied a team-best 16 runs, 17 RBI and 22 walks. Sophomore right fielder Amanda Geile leads the team with four homers and seven doubles. Of the nine expected hitting starters for the Razorbacks, only one, centerfielder Tori Mort, is a senior. Six are in their second year in Fayetteville, including redshirt freshman second baseman Sierra Bronkey.
In the circle, junior Chelsea Cohen does the bulk of the work, tossing 84.1 of the team's 134.2 innings this year. She's posted a 2.16 ERA with 45 strikeouts and 18 walks. Freshman Kimmy Beasley has started six games, going 32.2 innings with a 3.64 ERA. She has 29 strikeouts compared to 12 walks. As a staff, the Razorbacks have kept the ball in the yard, giving up only four homers. Opponents are hitting .272 against the Hogs.
Series History Versus the Razorbacks
The Gamecocks own a 25-15 advantage in the all-time series against the Razorbacks, including winning the series last season in Fayetteville. At Beckham Field, South Carolina has gone 10-7 against Arkansas, including dropping both ends of a doubleheader in the Hogs' last trip to Columbia in 2010.
The Last Series vs. Arkansas - April 16-17, 2011
South Carolina won the series at Bogle Park last season, winning games by 7-3 and 5-4 scores while dropping a nine-inning contest in between, 2-1.
The Gamecock bats came to life with 11 hits in game one, leading South Carolina to a 7-3 win over Arkansas. Second baseman Dana Hathorn led the Gamecocks with a 3-for-4 day, posting three RBI, two runs scored and a homer. Leftfielder Kaitlin Westfall went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI, while centerfielder Lauren Lackey went 2-for-3 with a run scored. Five different Razorbacks had hits in the contest.
South Carolina tied the game in the seventh to force extra innings, but Arkansas came through in the end, taking a 2-1 win in nine innings in the second game of the doubleheader. Shortstop Samie Garcia went 4-for-5 in the game and scored South Carolina's only run in the seventh. With two down and Garcia the lead runner at third, Arkansas walked first baseman Molly Brossart. The fourth ball skipped away from Arkansas's catcher, allowing Garcia to sprint home and tie the game. The Razorbacks ended the game in the ninth when Courtney Breault's fly to left went deep enough to allow Linnea Ketcher to tag and score with the bases loaded.
Brossart's RBI single in the fourth gave South Carolina a lead it would not relinquish, as the Gamecocks downed Arkansas 5-4 to capture the series. Brossart came up with Garcia on third and two outs and poked the first pitch into left field, plating Garcia after she started the inning with a single, stole second and moved to third on Hathorn's groundout.