COLUMBIA, S.C. -
The South Carolina Gamecocks (19-12) step out of Southeastern Conference play on Wednesday to renew the border battle with No. 24/25 North Carolina for the 61st time. First pitch for the single game at Anderson Stadium is scheduled for 5 p.m. EDT. Gametracker live stats and a live audio broadcast will be available at GamecocksOnline.com.
While Starting a New Streak, Garcia Still Strong Atop Lineup
Shortstop Samie Garcia saw her 21-game hitting streak snapped in the first game versus Arkansas, the second-longest documented skein in Gamecock history. But Garcia rebounded, posting doubles in both Gamecock wins to help take the series. The junior ranks leads the team and the SEC with a .450 batting average and with 45 hits. She's also tie for third in the SEC in runs, tied for fifth in triples and knotted at sixth for doubles.
Her biggest day came in front of her family and the largest crowd of the weekend at the Highlander Classic, when Garcia went 3-for-4 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.
Childs Prefers to Trot . . .
Senior third baseman Evan Childs has tallied nine homers on the year, with two coming in the Gamecocks' series-clinching 8-7 victory over Arkansas on March 11. It was her second-career two-homer game, tying the program's single-game record again. She hit the second homer off Florida Gator pitching this season on March 18, giving her nine on the season, tied for third most in a single season at South Carolina. With 15 in her career, she's tied for seventh on South Carolina's all-time list with Samantha Jennings and Tina Plew. She's vying to be the first Gamecock since McKenna Hughes (2004-07) to lead the team in homers twice in her career.
While Lackey Likes Stretching It to Three . . .
Senior outfielder Lauren Lackey has four triples on the year, tying for the SEC lead. Lackey is looking to be the first Gamecock since Ashton Payne in 2007-08 to lead the team in triples in consecutive seasons. Tied for ninth on the Gamecocks' career triples chart with nine, one more would push Lackey into a tie for seventh with two former standouts, including two-time All-American Karen Sanchelli.
Westfall A Double Machine in 2012
Senior leftfielder Kaitlin Westfall leads the SEC with 14 doubles this season, one shy of making South Carolina's single-season top-10 list. Westfall has four more than her closest competition in the league. Five of Westfall's came in the Blue & Gold Feisberg Memorial, as she posted two each in wins over Illinois-Chicago and Villanova.
Carolina in the Month of March
Since 1984, the Gamecocks are 422-218-3 (.659) in the third month of the year. Last season, the mark was 8-11 in March for South Carolina.
Childs' Game-Ending Blast New Feeling for These Gamecocks
South Carolina senior Evan Childs ended the series finale against Arkansas with a two-run home run, helping the team claim its first win of the season when trailing heading into the seventh inning. Childs' walk-off shot is the first for the Gamecocks since McKenna Hughes ended a nine-inning affair against Ole Miss in similar fashion in the second game of the doubleheader on May 5, 2007. It was Hughes' ninth round-tripper in her program-best 11-homer year.
The Long Ball Proving to Be Bellweather Again for Gamecocks
The 2012 Gamecocks have tallied 28 homers on the year, tied with the 1994 team for the fifth-highest total in program history. And yet again, the homers point to good things for the team. South Carolina is 13-3 when sending at least one ball out, while it is 3-8 when going without a triple or homer. Last season, the Gamecocks went 17-6 in games in which they hit a homer while winning just three games when the team did not record at least one triple or one home run.
Starting Things Right Very Important for Gamecocks
The Gamecocks thrive when they reach base to start an inning. As a team, South Carolina gets on base at a .439 clip to begin a frame. In the 14 contests where the team has started two or fewer innings with a base runner reaching, the Gamecocks are 6-8.
Hits Kept Coming vs. Charlotte
South Carolina posted 18 hits in the victory at Charlotte on Feb. 29. That mark is the best since March 5, 2005, when the Gamecocks had 20 in a 15-2 win over South Dakota State.
Hathorn Leads Gamecocks to Walkoff Win vs. Charlotte
Sophomore second baseman Dana Hathorn stepped up with another big hit to lead the Gamecocks over Charlotte on March 14. She poked a single to left to score Kaitlin Westfall from third and give South Carolina it's second comeback win in four days.
Hathorn's biggest game of the year came in the Feb. 22 win over Winthrop, when she provided two two-run doubles to help lead the team to a 9-1 win in five innings over the Eagles.
Gonzales Coming on Strong
Junior catcher Shelby Gonzales knew there'd be an adjustment period in her first year of NCAA Division I softball. Last season's NJCAA Division I RBI leader has seemed to make those in recent weeks.She's fourth on the team with a .424 on-base percentage and with three home runs. She's been big with runners in scoring position and two outs, going 5-for-8 and driving in eight runs.
Big RBI Games Already Surpassing Last Year
The Gamecocks have posted five four-RBI games already in 2012, three more than 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 has two four-RBI games on the season, the last in the comeback triumph over Arkansas to clinch the series on March 11.
Hawkins Providing Thump
Sophomore Chelsea Hawkins has provided a lot of power for the Gamecocks this season, hitting five homers, two shy of making South Carolina's top-10 single-season charts. She's driven in 20 runs, tied for second on the team, and stands third in batting average (.356) and slugging percentage (.567). The only blemish is the 21 strikeouts in 90 at bats.
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 stand at 1-1 in extra-inning games this season, getting a 5-4 victory in eight over Western Kentucky, and hold a 5-4 mark in one-run games.
Howser a Bullpen Ace in Early Going
Freshman Katelynn Howser has done some of her best work in 2012 out of the bullpen. In 12 relief appearances, she's picked up three saves, which ranks ninth on South Carolina's single-season chart, and three of her eight wins. In the 33 innings of relief, she's posted a 2.76 ERA. In her 10 starts, she's 5-3, tossing five complete games and posting a 3.35 ERA in 48 innings.
Early Season Schedule Provided Tests
While the first glance at South Carolina's pre-conference schedule may lead one to think that they should have all been 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.
South Carolina Defense Downfall in Early 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. Errors also haunted the Gamecocks in the first game against Mississippi State, as four unearned runs crossed in the 10-6 setback on March 13.
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 15-6 when making one or less errors but 4-6 when committing two or more.
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.
The Pembroke Pines, Fla., product leads the Gamecocks with a 2.23 ERA, tossing 47 innings this season. She made her first relief appearance of the year on March 11 and held Arkansas scoreless for the final 3.2 innings in the 8-7 comeback win. And when things get tough, she gets better, as the chart in the PDF version of the notes shows.
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 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.
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 shutout stands out even more due to White's efficiency, as she needed 74 pitches to get through 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 11 starts in `12.
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 and surpassed the outputs of both 2008 and 2010. In 31 games in 2012, South Carolina has hit 28 homers, three more than in the whole of 2011. The program record is 38 long balls in a season, set in 2003.
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.
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.
Scouting the North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina comes into Wednesday's contest with a 21-8 record, including a 4-1 mark at Anderson Stadium and off a series win at Virginia Tech, including a 9-0 win in five innings in the finale. The wins have helped the Tar Heels grab the 24th spot in the latest NFCA/USA Today Coaches' poll.
Offensively, sophomore Amy Nece leads the Tar Heels, posting a .397/.449/.444 line with five stolen bases. Sophomore Logan Foulks provides power, leading the team with six homers and 25 RBI. Four Tar Heel starters hold on-base percentages over .400, but it's likely three could be under .300.
Lori Spingola serves as the ace of North Carolina, throwing 123.2 of the team's 193 innings on the year. Spingola has struck out 159 and walked 43, going 15-6 with a 2.15 ERA. While she may not walk many hitters, she has hit 25 on the season. Sara Buchholz (2.68 ERA) and Ashley Bone (2.70 ERA) have started the 10 games that Spingola has not this year.
Series History Versus the Tar Heels
In this border battle, the Gamecocks own a 48-12 advantage over the Tar Heels, including a win in last year's meeting in Columbia. In Chapel Hill, South Carolina still leads, but it's much closer at 15-9. North Carolina claimed the last meeting at Anderson Stadium, a 17-7 slugfest in five innings in 2010.
The Last Meeting vs. North Carolina - April 6, 2011
A two-out home run in the sixth from Laura Mendes and a great pitching performance that held the Tar Heels to two hits handed South Carolina a 1-0 victory over North Carolina at Beckham Field. Mendes came up with two down in the inning and drove the 2-0 pitch onto the netting over the scoreboard in right center to hand the Gamecocks the lead. The senior collected two of South Carolina's five hits in the contest. Gamecock pitcher Audrey Broyles went five innings and allowed one hit and one walk while striking out three in the start. April Borchardt picked up the win in relief, tossing the final two and allowing just one hit while fanning one. Spingola took the loss, giving up one earned run on five hits. She struck out five.
Coaches Know a Bit about Winning, Smith Learning It at North Carolina
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 something about winning, claiming crowns at all three of his amateur 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 vs. Ranked Opponents
In history against foes ranked in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll, South Carolina has an 91-201-1 (.312) mark. When facing SEC teams that are ranked, SC is 38-144 (.209). On April 24, 2011, the Gamecocks snapped a 34-game losing streak against ranked teams, defeating No. 20 Kentucky in the final game of the series.