COLUMBIA, S.C. -
South Carolina hits the road for its next seven games, startiAll games will have a live audio broadcast at GamecocksOnline.com, while Gametracker live stats will also be available.
Scouting the Auburn Tigers
Auburn enters the weekend set with a 22-4 record, dropping two at No. 3/2 Alabama on Wednesday. The Tigers are, however, 13-0 at home. They are once again strong in the circle, ranking fifth in the SEC in ERA and third in strikeouts. The staff is quite strong three-deep, with Angel Bunner leading the way with a 1.60 ERA in 57.0 innings of work. Lauren Schmalz is 10-1 on the year, posting a 2.09 ERA while striking out 91 batters in 63.2 innings of work. Jenee Loree rounds out the staff with a 2.12 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 46.1 innings. As a staff, the Tigers have a near 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (200:55).
At the plate, Morgan Estell leads the squad in most major categories, going .400/.506/.717 with a team-best 21 RBI. Amber Harison is right behind her at .339/.482/.667, walking a team-leading 19 times. Kyndall White (7 SB) and Lauren Guzman (10 SB) provide the speed for the Tigers, as well as Caitlin Stangl (8 SB). Kelsey Cartwright has hit five homers, while Estell and Harrison both have four. Hitting the ball to the left side of Auburn's infield could be helpful, as shortstop Lauren Guzman and third baseman Kyndall White have combined for 10 errors.
Series History Versus Auburn
The Gamecocks hold a slim 21-20 lead in the all-time series against the Auburn Tigers. But the Tigers have won five of the last six, including a sweep in Columbia last season. On the Plains, the Gamecocks are 9-9, with the Gamecocks snapping a seven-game losing streak at Jane B. Moore Field in their final game of the 2009 series.
Last Series vs. Auburn - March 27-28, 2010
A close first two games did not help South Carolina, as Auburn finished the sweep with an 11-5 win in Sunday's finale at Beckham Field. The Tigers won the first two games, 4-1 and 5-3.
Amber Harrison and Elizabeth Eisterhold both went 5-for-11 in the series for Auburn, with Eisterhold posting five RBI as well. Krista Clyde hit two homers and drove in six while going 3-for-7 at the plate. She also had three sacrifices and two stolen bases. Lauren Lackey led the Gamecocks with a .444 batting average, adding a triple. Laura Mendes drove in five of the Gamecocks' seven runs, with both hits going for extra bases. April Borchardt had a 1.75 ERA in four innings of work, while Ashley Chastain posted a 2.10 ERA in 6.2 innings. She did, however, allow five unearned runs.
South Carolina vs. Ranked Opponents
In history against foes ranked in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll, South Carolina has an 90-181-1 (.333) mark. Against the top five, the Gamecocks are 14-39 (.264), while the program has a 34-93-1 (.270) mark against the top 10. When facing SEC teams that are ranked, SC is 37-124 (.230), including a 5-27 (.156) record against SEC teams ranked in the top five. Last year, the Gamecocks went 0-18 against ranked opponents, 0-8 against top-10 squads.
Great Start to the Season
The Gamecocks started things off a little better than they ended things on the field last year. With 16 wins overall and three already in Southeastern Conference action, South Carolina surpassed its win totals in both categories from 2010 before the halfway mark of the year.
South Carolina Making Defenses Work
The Gamecocks have done a great job putting balls in play this year. South Carolina stands at the bottom of the SEC standings in strikeout by its hitters, fanning just 80 times in 25 games. That's 14 less K's than the closest team. The Gamecocks have benefited, hitting .324 on balls in play.
Showing Off the Wheels
South Carolina has recorded 52 stolen bases in the early going of 2011. That total surpasses the 2001 team as the best in a decade. While a hard pace to maintain, it's worth noting that the Gamecocks have stolen more bases than games played in just three seasons (1992, 94-95). And it's not one person doing the work on the bases. Six different Gamecocks have tallied four or more stolen bases.
Four of those Gamecocks have nine or more. If all four get into double figures, that would make the 2011 team the first in recorded history (since 1983) to have four individuals steal 10 or more bases. Only eight times has more than one Gamecock made it to 10+ SB in a year. Sophomore Hannah Milks has already joined the double-digit steals club, most recently visited by Ashton Payne, who swiped 13 in 2007.
Hathorn Making the Most of Opportunity; Gets Award for her Work
Freshman Dana Hathorn has fought her way into the starting lineup and has been solid during her time since gaining the job. She drew her first start against Georgetown, and the Gamecocks have won 12 games since that contest. She has more than done her part, leading the squad with 19 RBI while standing second with a .355 batting average. And she's been a standout in the field, handling 81 chances with just one error at second base.
She earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors on March 7 after her play in the final week leading into conference play. Hathorn hit .421 and posted seven of her 12 RBI in the five games from March 2-6. She saw her five-game hitting and RBI streaks end in the first game at Mississippi State but rebounded to post seven RBI and tie for the team lead in hitting during the first week of SEC play.
Fulmer Limiting Foes' Running Games
Senior P.J. Fulmer has been a good defensive catcher in the past, but this season she's taken her throwing to a different level. Currently, teams are 6-for-12 in stolen base attempts against Fulmer. Versus South Carolina, teams are 8-of-16, a 50% caught-stealing rate that ranks second in the league. Last season, Fulmer threw out 20 percent of those attempting to steal, just off of her 23 percent mark of 2009. Three errors have been charged to Fulmer as well as two passed balls, one less error and equal to the number she committed in all of 2010.
Gamecock Defense Carrying the Load
South Carolina's defense has done most of the work this season in recording outs. In the SEC, the Gamecock pitching staff's 4.49 strikeouts per seven innings is 11th. And when the defense is good, so are the Gamecocks. When making two or less errors, South Carolina is 16-6. If three or more errors are committed by the Garnet and Black, they are 0-3.
One feature that stands out for the defense is the dearth of infield hits. Through 25 games, the Gamecocks have allowed 11 infield singles. Also, the team is fourth in the SEC in assists, behind teams that had played one, and three more games than South Carolina.
Good Year for Defensive Improvements
South Carolina's defense has picked up at the right time. In the last 10 years, the Gamecocks have never posted a defensive efficiency (the inverse of batting average on balls in play) better than .741. This season, the Gamecocks currently hold a .763 defensive efficiency. Last season was the worst in the 10 years that the stat has been compiled, as the Gamecocks had an efficiency rate of just .654.
Childs Hitting Well Since Move to Hot Corner
Junior Evan Childs has returned to the starting lineup with a vengeance. The infielder has started the last 10 games at third base, hitting .353 (12-for-34) at the spot. That includes three-consecutive three-hit games to close out the FAU Miken Classic. The Conway, S.C., native moved to the hot corner after starting 49 games at second base and 54 at shortstop over the first two-plus years of her career.
Unlucky So Far
South Carolina has won 16 games already, but some of their specialty stats seem to point towards much better things to come. With runners in scoring position, the Gamecocks have hit .289, eighth-best in the SEC. That includes a 4-for-24 mark with the bases loaded. In all situations, South Carolina holds a .302 batting average. If those numbers, especially with the bases loaded, improve, it will be a big help to the Gamecocks going forward. Two of the highest games for a team with runners left on base in the league have been in two of the Gamecocks' losses (11 against USC Upstate and Winthrop).
Lackey Trying to Leg Out a Lot of History
South Carolina junior Lauren Lackey has made an impact for the Gamecocks with her strong defensive play during her first two seasons as a Gamecocks. But this season, she has done some damage at the plate. Lackey currently leads the Gamecock regulars with a .593 slugging percentage. If she keeps that up, she would stand with Tiff Tootle as a slap hitter who led her team in slugging percentage.
Earlier this season, Lackey made the quick trip around the bases with an inside-the-park home run against Georgetown, her first career round-tripper. It is at least the first inside-the-park home run since 2001, as none could be found in the archives from 2002-10.
South Carolina is not prominently displayed in the SEC's individual stat rankings, but it would be bad for one to think that the team has not progressed at the plate. Nearing the halfway point for 2011, the Gamecocks have already surpassed their 2010 total in runs, triples, home runs, stolen bases and sacrifice flies. The Garnet and Black have a batting average that is 86 points better than last year (.302-.216), an on-base percentage 94 points improved (.381-.287) and a slugging percentage 147 points better (.435-288).
In a Pinch? Go with Sarratt
Freshman Julie Sarratt has been the Gamecocks' top hitting threat off the bench. She's gone 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI in her pinch hitting appearances. The rest of the Gamecocks are 3-for-13 coming off the bench.
Brossart Leads Gamecocks in Three True Outcomes at the Plate
Junior first baseman Molly Brossart has provided the Gamecocks with a steady glove at first and a good eye at the plate. Her 13 walks tie for the team, but she also leads the squad with 15 strikeouts. Add that to her two home runs, and she has posted a three true outcomes percentage of .385. Three true outcomes are the stats, mentioned above, where the player has nearly all the control on how the plate appearance ends. Brossart also has had three sacrifice flies, tops on the team, and three sac bunts, tied for second.
Broyles Hoping to Recapture Magic
The start of last season was nothing short of amazing for now redshirt sophomore Audrey Broyles. Among the SEC leaders in strikeouts and ERA during the first month of 2010, a shoulder injury shut her down right as SEC play kicked off. Even after two ineffective starts to end the year, Broyles still managed to hold foes to a .161 batting average in 42.1 innings of work. Now healthy, Broyles looks to recapture her role as the ace of the staff. As a freshman, Broyles won 10 games and saved three more.
She has started rounding into form recently. It started in the first game against Elon. She allowed just two hits in the shutout win, striking out six without a walk on the day. She did it again in the game at Winthrop, going the distance while giving up just one earned run. She now boasts a 2.80 ERA and a 4-2 record, completing three games.
Broyles and Chastain Shut Down Foes with Two Strikes
South Carolina pitchers Audrey Broyles and senior Ashley Chastain become deadly to hitters when they get two strikes. Broyles holds foes to a 7-for-78 (.090) mark when any at bat ends with two strikes (0-2, 1-2, etc.). Chastain is equally as tough, with opponents going 3-for-31 (.097) in those situations. Overall, the pitching staff has held opponents to a .147 batting average (39-for-266) in the two-strike circumstance.
Borchardt Back for Another Go in the Circle
In her first year at South Carolina, April Borchardt became a savior on the pitching staff. Primarily an outfielder during her freshman season at Northwest Florida State College, Borchardt went 14-4 in the circle for the Raiders as a sophomore before coming to Columbia. Last season, Borchardt led the Gamecocks in wins and ERA while tossing 75 innings. She may be used either as a speedy outfielder or as the relief ace again this season.
In the early going, she's taken on the relief specialist role. She's gone 4-2 with one save in her 15 relief appearances, the most in the SEC. She's compiled a 3.94 ERA, fanning 21 in 32 innings of work.
A First for Gamecock Pitchers
For the first time in recorded South Carolina softball history (since 1983), five different pitchers have recorded wins for the squad, and they all have two now. Five times previously four pitchers had gotten a "W" in one season: 1995, 1999, 2005, 2006 and 2009. Of course, this is just the fourth season that five players have pitched in a game. The other years were 2005, 2009 and 2010.
The Long Ball Effective for Gamecocks
South Carolina has already hit 13 home runs on the season, more than the high in two of the last three seasons. It has been a big help to the squad this season, as the Gamecocks are 11-1 in games where they have hit a homer. South Carolina has won just one game in which it did not record at least one triple or one home run.
Gamecocks Could Use a Faster Start
Maybe it takes the Gamecocks a little while to get going. Of South Carolina's 136 runs, only 10 have come in the first inning. The initial frame is also the lowest for the Gamecocks in terms of batting average (.219), on-base percentage (.303) and slugging percentage (.281). Things improved on March 6 at the FAU Miken Classic, as South Carolina posted three first-inning runs in the two games that day.
The Gamecocks hit best in the sixth, posting .355/.425/.598 in frame. The fifth isn't bad to the Garnet and Black, either, posting 30 runs with a slash line of .324/.419/.520.
Offensive Onslaughts More Prevalent than Last Three Seasons
On four occasions, South Carolina has tallied 10 or more runs in a game this season. That is one more than the total of 10-or-more run games in the 2008-10 seasons combined, a total of 143 games.
Samie's the Sparkplug Up Top
Sophomore shortstop Samie Garcia, in one weekend, proved why she was a key component brought to Columbia by head coach Beverly Smith for her first season. While she's cooled off a bit recently, Garcia still leads the team in hits and runs scored, posting nine stolen bases while her .411 on-base percentage is fourth on the squad. Last season, Garcia won Co-Cal JC Player of the Year accolades at Cerritos College.
Fulmer's Ironwoman Streak Behind Dish Ends
Senior catcher P.J. Fulmer ranks as one of the toughest Gamecocks in history. Since earning the starting job during her freshman season, she's only missed a handful of games. She even took a ball to the face during the fall, knocking out four teeth, and missed minimal time. But after making a spectacular catch in the final game of the Palmetto State Showdown against USC Upstate, the senior experienced some tightness in her back and neck. She missed the Winthrop contest on Feb. 16, breaking a streak of 89 straight starts. She has come back to start every game since.
Let Not Westfall's Great Opening Weekend Go by the Wayside
Junior leftfielder Kaitlin Westfall came on strong toward the end of 2010, ending the year as the Gamecocks' second-best hitter in SEC play. She's built on that, currently ranking fourth among regulars in batting average (.329) and second in slugging percentage (.493).
She had a stellar opening weekend in the 2011 Palmetto State Showdown. In the SEC's first stat rankings, she stood in the top 15 in the league in three categories, including tied for seventh with her 1.000 slugging percentage and 11th with 13 total bases. The Macon, Ga., native had a double, a triple and a home run during the first three games of the year.
Back to Bash Again Laura Mendes has already made her way onto a handful of the Gamecocks all-time top-10 lists after three seasons in Columbia. Holding spots in hits per game, doubles per game and slugging percentage, the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., native ranks as the top returning Gamecock hitter. Her powerful left-handed bat should once again anchor the lineup. She's led South Carolina in hits, doubles and triples in each of the last two seasons, while she also led the Gamecocks in numerous other categories as a junior.
Mendes had an amazing week prior to the SEC opener, going 10-for-19 with five extra-base hits and 10 RBI in the five games. That included the amazing performance at Winthrop (3/2), where she finished a single short of the cycle. Pitches for Mendes to hit have not been there all season. She's posted 13 walks, tied for tops on the team and six more than she compiled in the 2010 season.
Milks Making Waves
Sophomore right fielder Hannah Milks has been a valuable member of the starting lineup this season, and lately she's made more of an impact with her bat. She has played solid defense in right field, including the no-hitter-saving catch that ended the game against Coastal Carolina during the opening weekend. But in the first game versus Michigan State and Charlotte, she posted consecutive 3-for-4 outings. She victimized the Spartans for her first career home run in the second meeting. Milks now leads the squad with 11 stolen bases, while she's second on the team with four bunt hits.
Sarratt Stunner in First Two Weeks
Freshman Julie Sarratt was a revelation during her first two weeks in the Garnet and Black. She tossed a no-hitter in her debut against Coastal Carolina on Feb. 12, the 44th in South Carolina's documented history. She also tossed a shutout in her third start, shutting down Florida Gulf Coast.
Sarratt has struggled in her last five starts, but had two good relief appearances in the Mississippi series, where she tossed four innings of scoreless relief, giving up one hit in those two outings. Overall, the rookie is 4-3 with a 3.28 ERA, striking out 35 batters in 42.2 innings of work.
Carolina in the Month of March
Since 1984, the Gamecocks are 414-204-3 (.669) in the third month of the year.