Returning home for the final six games at the current setup of Beckham Field, South Carolina (23-23, 3-16 SEC) hosts No. 8/7 Tennessee (37-9, 16-6 SEC) in a three-game series starting on Friday night at 7 p.m. EDT. Saturday's game is scheduled for a 4 p.m. first pitch, with Sunday's affair set to begin at 1 p.m. A live audio stream and Gametracker live stats will be available at GamecocksOnline.com, while updates will also be posted on the team's Twitter feed, @GamecockSoftbll.
South Carolina Honoring Active Gamecock Participants This Weekend
This academic year, the South Carolina Athletics Department launched a new inititive titled Active Gamecocks, a program to promote physical education and fitness in the state. The spring portion of the program ran from March 20-April 3, with over 3,000 students participating in 44 schools. The students and teachers involved with the effort were invited to spring Gamecock events, with this Tennessee series being one of them. The other is the May 9 baseball game versus Furman.
Grueling Road Stretch Over, But Not Done with Top Competition
South Carolina returns home from a tough road trip where it went 1-7 in games at Kentucky, No. 11/11 Georgia (who lost two of three at Kentucky as well) and No. 2/2 Alabama. The schedule makers did not make it any easier to start the homestand, as No. 8/7 Tennessee comes to town for the penultimate series at Beckham Field. That will mark eight consecutive games against a top-15 foe for the Gamecocks.
New Team Home Run Record at South Carolina
The 2012 South Carolina Gamecocks set a new program record in home runs on April 15 at Alabama, when sophomore Chelsea Hawkins blasted the 39th round-tripper of the year. That eclipsed the 2003 team's 38 dingers in 61 games. Eleven different Gamecocks have hit the homers, including three that stand in the top 10 in the individual single-season stats: senior Evan Childs (10, T-2nd), junior Samie Garcia (7, T-10th) and Hawkins (7, T-10th).
Other Team Single-Season Marks in Jeopardy
Two other team season records are in danger of falling as well. The Gamecocks also could post the highest on-base percentage and slugging percentage as a team in history. The group is currently .011 above the 1996 team's .367 mark, while it's .048 higher than the 1994 team's slugging record. The challenge will be keeping the tallies up in the next six games against the second- and sixth-ranked pitching staffs in the league, Tennessee and Auburn, respectively.
The Long Ball Proving to Be Bellweather Again for Gamecocks
The 2012 Gamecocks have tallied 39 homers on the year, the highest total in program history. And yet again, the homers point to good things for the team. South Carolina is 17-8 when sending at least one ball out, while it is 3-15 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 .408 clip to begin a frame, and the team is 16-7 in games when the leadoff runner of an inning reaches three times or more in the game. When the Gamecocks start two or fewer innings with a base runner reaching, they are 7-16. Three of those seven wins came in games shortened by the mercy rule (Providence, Maine and Kentucky).
Carolina in the Month of April
Since 1984, the Gamecocks are 356-214-1 (.624) in the fourth month of the year. In April SEC games, South Carolina is 102-121 (.457).
Garcia Still Strong Atop Lineup
Shortstop Samie Garcia ranks second on the team and fifth in the SEC with a .393 batting average, and she's second in the league with 57 hits. She's fifth in the SEC in runs and in the top 15 in the conference stats in slugging percentage, doubles, triples and stolen bases. While Garcia is threatening to make the Gamecocks' single-season charts in many categories (found on pages 9-10 in the PDF version of the notes), she also ranks in the top 20 in many of South Carolina's all-time hitting categories, which can be found on page 8 in the version of the notes linked above.
The Easter Sunday contest at Kentucky (4/8) was outstanding for the Bell, Calif., native, as she hit two homers and scored three times. The junior saw her 21-game hitting streak snapped in the first game versus Arkansas (3/9), the second-longest documented skein in Gamecock history. In front of family and a large crowd at the Highlander Classic, 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 10 homers on the year, becoming the third Gamecock to crack double-digit blasts in a single season. With 16 in her career, she's seventh on South Carolina's all-time list, one in back of three-time Academic All-American Ashley Smith. She's vying to be the first Gamecock since McKenna Hughes (2004-07) to lead the team in homers twice in her career. She also is vying for a spot on the top-10 single-season RBI charts, four away from tying for 10th there.
Two of Childs' homers came in the Gamecocks' series-clinching 8-7 victory over Arkansas on March 11, the second two-homer game of her career, tying the program's single-game record again. She also hit the second homer off Florida Gator pitching this season on March 18.
While Lackey Likes Stretching It to Three . . .
Senior outfielder Lauren Lackey has five triples on the year, standing alone in 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. She's tied for seventh on the Gamecocks' career triples chart with 10 with former standouts Joyce McMillin and two-time All-American Karen Sanchelli.
Lackey ranks second in the SEC with her .407 batting average, and she's tied for 14th with 10 stolen bases, leading the team in both. Keeping her batting average in the same range would place Lackey on South Carolina's single-season top-10 list. She's also third in the league with 55 hits and tied for fourth with six sacrifice bunts.
Westfall A Double Machine in 2012
Senior leftfielder Kaitlin Westfall leads the SEC with 15 doubles this season, tying for 10th on South Carolina's single-season top-10 list and two more than her closest competition in the league. She also is vying for a listing in the single-season HBP records, as she is currently tied with Samie Garcia for sixth with six this year. Five of Westfall's doubles came in the Blue & Gold Feisberg Memorial, as she posted two each in wins over Illinois-Chicago and Villanova.
Westfall has also contributed four round-trippers on the year, and they both came in pairs on a single day. On March 2, she hit one against both Portland State and Maine in the Highlander Classic at UC Riverside. On March 31, she had one in each end of the doubleheader versus Longwood, including a grand slam in game two that gave the Gamecocks a lead they never relinquished.
Hawkins Providing Thump
Sophomore Chelsea Hawkins has provided a lot of power for the Gamecocks this season, currently standing in a tie for 10th on South Carolina's top-10 single-season charts with seven homers while adding 11 doubles. She's driven in 29 runs, second most on the team, and also stands second in slugging percentage (.586) and third in batting average (.333).
Struett Stellar in First Week of Action
Freshman Kristen Struett bided her time until she made her debut. But she definitely knew how to make an impact once playing. She went 1-for-3 in pinch-hitting duty against LSU while tossing the final 2.1 innings in the Sunday contest. Struett shined against Winthrop and Longwood, earning SEC Freshman of the Week honors. She tossed a complete game in Rock Hill and hit her first career homer. She added hits in both ends of the twinbill versus the Lancers and another pitching win in game two.
Big RBI Games Already Surpassing Last Year
The Gamecocks have posted seven four-or-more-RBI games already in 2012, four 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. Freshman Kristen Struett, in her first career start, hit a homer and drove in four in the win at Winthrop (3/28). And senior Kaitlin Westfall joined the act in game two against Longwood (3/31), launching her first career grand slam and adding another RBI for the first five-RBI day since Jill Semento's day on April 7, 2009 against Coastal Carolina.
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 its second comeback win in four days.
In the first game at No. 11/11 Georgia on April 11, Hathorn tied the game in the seventh with a two-out, two-RBI single, adding to her big-hit résumé.
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 5-5 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 16 relief appearances, tied for seventh most in a year for a Gamecock, she's picked up three saves, which ranks ninth on South Carolina's single-season chart, and three of her eight wins while posting a 2.56 ERA in 43.2 innings. In her 14 starts, she's 5-7, tossing six complete games and posting a 5.14 ERA in 61.1 innings.
Childs' Game-Ending Blast New Feeling for These Gamecocks
South Carolina senior Evan Childs ended the series finale against Arkansas on March 11 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, a mark Childs is one homer from tying.
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 3.46 ERA, tossing 79 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. She pitched a strong seven innings versus Longwood (3/31), fanning seven without giving up a walk in the complete-game win. And when things get tough, she gets better, as the chart in the PDF version of the notes shows.
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 for a few of those games. 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 18-14 when making one or less errors but 5-9 when committing two or more.
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 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 the NJCAA Division I title in 2003 at the College of Southern Nevada and the College World Series at Texas during 2005.
Scouting the Tennessee Lady Volunteers
Entering the weekend with a 37-9 overall record, Tennessee holds the No. 8 spot in the NFCA/USA Today coaches poll and the second spot in the SEC East standings. A great team in every aspect of the game, defense and pitching lead the way for Tennessee this year.
Ellen Renfroe ranks as the Lady Vols' ace, standing fourth in the SEC with a 1.18 ERA. She's fanned a league-high 246 batters in 189.2 innings. Opponents hit .178 against the younger of the Renfroe sisters. Ellen has thrown 14 wild pitches, third most in the SEC. Ivy handles the rest of the work, holding a 2.32 ERA in 123.2 innings of action. She's fanned 120 and walked 33 on the season. Tennessee owns the best fielding percentage in the conference with a .984 mark.
The trio of Raven Chavanne, Lauren Gibson and Madison Shipman lead Tennessee at the plate. Chavanne is third in the SEC with a .405 batting average, and she's stolen a team-high 22 bases. Gibson is fourth in the league with 12 home runs, third with 43 runs and tied for ninth with 35 RBI. Shipman leads the SEC with 52 RBI and has nine doubles and nine homers. Kat Dotson adds her .341/.439/.382 line to the order. The Lady Vols are experts on the base paths, stealing 78 bases while only being thrown out seven times. They also have 173 walks on the year, second most in the league.
Series History Versus the Lady Vols
The Lady Vols own a 28-15 advantage all-time in the series, taking 21 straight dating back to April 1, 2003. In Columbia, the Gamecocks are 8-12 against Tennessee. The Lady Vols also hold the distinction of snapping the longest winning streak in NCAA Division I history in 1997, taking a 6-1 win in the third of four games that year, the first Gamecock loss in 39 games.
The Last Series vs. Tennessee - March 25-27, 2011
Two last at-bat wins helped No. 11 Tennessee sweep the series at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium last year. Ellen Renfroe picked up the game-one win, while sister Ivy Renfroe got the final two victories.
Tennessee pinch hitter Chelsea O'Conner ended the Friday night contest in the eighth with one down, fouling off three pitches before launching a two-run homer out to left, leading the Lady Vols to a 4-2 win. Ashley Andrews preceded O'Conner's heroics with a single during an eight-pitch at bat.
Tennessee came out on fire in the first and captured a 10-3 win over South Carolina on Saturday. Eleven Lady Vols came to the plate in a six-run first, with four posting RBI singles. Lauren Gibson and Chelsea O'Conner both had one RBI with their hits while Shelby Burchell and Raven Chavanne posted two-RBI hits in the frame. The lead grew to 7-0 on Gibson's RBI single in the fourth, as she drove in Kelly Grieve for the second time. Gamecock centerfielder Lauren Lackey led the Gamecocks with a 2-for-3 day, driving in a run, while catcher P.J. Fulmer had one of South Carolina's two doubles. Chavanne had three RBI in a 2-for-4 afternoon, while Gibson went 4-for-4 with two RBI singles, a double and two runs scored. Burchell also had two hits and two RBI for the Lady Vols.
A hard-fought game by South Carolina slipped away at the end, as No. 11 Tennessee captured a 5-4 win on Sunday afternoon. Tennessee's Jessica Spigner started the frame with a double, and pinch runner Morgan Fowler moved to third on Melissa Brown's foul out deep in the right-field corner. Gamecock starter Audrey Broyles got O'Connor to strike out for the second out of the inning. A four-pitch walk to Andrews preceded Melissa Davin's pinch-hit single that tied the game. Chavanne followed with a hit to center, and Andrews raced home, making a throw irrelevant and close the contest.
South Carolina vs. Ranked Opponents
In history against foes ranked in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll, South Carolina has an 91-207-1 (.306) mark. When facing SEC teams that are ranked, SC is 38-149 (.203). 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. South Carolina is 0-9 against ranked teams this season
Offensive Improvement Continues in 2012 Beverly Smith's first season saw the Gamecocks improve their offensive statistics by huge margins from 2010. The improvement has continued in 2012, with this year's team holding a batting average 32 points better than last year (.299-.267), an on-base percentage 37 points improved (.378-.341) and a slugging percentage 83 points higher (.465-.382).
In 2011, the Garnet and Black tallied a batting average that was 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.
Gamecocks Set Painful Record in 2011, Getting Close in 2012
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. This season, the Gamecocks have been hit 33 times, the third time a team has recorded over 30 HBP's.
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.
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 43 games in 2012, South Carolina has hit 36 homers, two shy of the program record of 38 in 2003.
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 started the run by taking the nightcap 11-2 in five innings over the Buccaneers on 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 seven occasions, the Gamecocks have posted double-digit runs, the most in the team's SEC era, surpassing the five done 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.
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.