The Gamecocks finished 2014 with a Rating Percentage Index (RPI) of 34, the highest under fourth-year head coach Beverly Smith.
Only once in the past 10 years had the Gamecocks posted a better RPI, that coming in 2007, when South Carolina advanced into Super Regionals.
South Carolina recorded four new team single-season records this year, starting with the 53 home runs and 210 walks, which eclipsed the previous marks of 45 HR last year and 173 BB in 1992, respectively.
The team also broke its slugging percentage mark for the third-consecutive year, raising it to .464 over previous highs of .443 in 2012 and .450 in 2013.
On-base percentage also went higher for the fourth-straight season, up to .385, the second year in a row to break the old record of .367 in 1996.
Sarah Mooney, a junior transfer from James Madison, hit 12 home runs on the season, surpassing the single-season record set twice before by Evan Childs in 2012 and McKenna Hughes in 2007.
South Carolina went 8-8 in one-run games this season, three wins better than last year's 5-5. They went 5-9 during those contests in 2012 and 7-11 in Smith's first year of 2011.
After posting only eight hits combined in the first two games, South Carolina tallied at least eight hits in the next seven and later had an eight-game skein (3/23 at Tenn., through 4/1 vs. Pres.).
Overall, the Gamecocks had five or more hits in 47 games and eight or more in 27 of 58 outings.
The Gamecocks left the least runners on base in the SEC this season at 338.
A New (Ashlyn) Masters Tradition: Leading the Offense
Senior Ashlyn Masters led the Gamecock offense in 10 categories, and she placed herself on SC's single-season charts (top 15) on 12 lists.
She earned South Carolina's first SEC Player of the Week nod (on March 31) since 2005 with her performances against Furman and Mississippi.
She took over the leadoff spot in the middle of February, scoring 42 runs in those 50 games, more than any player's total this year, and tallying 29 of her 30 extra-base hits.
Her 19 doubles, tied for second in the SEC, stands second at South Carolina in a season, while her 0.34 doubles-per-game rate broke the old school record.
She also ranks third in Gamecock history with a .644 slugging percentage and fourth with 0.84 runs per game in a season.
She's in the Gamecocks' career top 10 in batting average (9th, .326), on-base percentage (6th, .407) and slugging percentage (4th, .547), along with the total of 11 marks she owns in the top 15.
With multiple hits in 19 games, she led the team.
She hit .402 when playing a defensive position compared to .269 in 23 games as a designated/offensive player.
Gamecocks Have a Rich History in NCAA Tournament
South Carolina earned its 17th bid in the NCAA Tournament this season and its second straight.
The Gamecocks are 32-31 in those trips, making three Women's College World Series in their history (1983, 1989 and 1997).
The program has five AIAW World Series trips in its history as well prior to 1982.
Four times, South Carolina has won a regional, the last in 2007 to advance into the program's only super regional.
In 2013, the Gamecocks made their seventh regional final (in multi-team regionals) in 14 appearances. The regionals in 1982-83 were set up like super regionals now, a best-of-three series against one opponent.
Blue had seven saves, tied for the most in 2014 in NCAA Division I and second in a single season at South Carolina, and Sarratt four, tied for fifth in Gamecock history.
Both were better in relief (Sarratt 1.12 ERA, Blue 2.01) than starting (Sarratt 3.08, Blue 3.68).
The group posted a 29-inning scoreless streak from the final game at Florida Atlantic till the final game of the Gamecock Invitational. UNC Wilmington posted an unearned first-inning run to snap it.
Longer than that stretch was the Gamecock pitchers' no-homer stand, from the 4th against Ohio through the end of the UNC Wilmington game, lasting 72 innings.
As a team, the Gamecock pitchers have allowed 0.53 homers, 0.08 triples and 0.73 doubles per game, which stand second, sixth and fourth in the league, respectively.
The staff gave up 123 runs in the first three innings of games (174 IP) and only 98 runs in the innings 4-7 this season (in 195.2 innings).
Blue's Been Best in Big Games
Nickie Blue garnered a spot on the inaugural NFCA Division I Freshman of the Year listing of the 25 finalists.
Her seven saves stood atop the NCAA Division I stat rankings.
Blue led the SEC in two categories: saves (7) and wild pitches (19).
When Blue pitches, she's produced double the ground-ball outs (253) versus fly outs (123).
Lefties had more trouble against Blue with two strikes, hitting .173 (24-of-139) (and .221 overall)with 57 of her strikeouts against lefty batters in 133 less at-bats than vs. righties.
Blue earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors on Feb. 24 after picking up a win and two saves in relief as well as her first career shutout vs. Michigan State.
Her top-two wins on the season were complete-game victories at ranked opponents in the 3-2 victory at No. 3/3 Arizona State and the 1-0 triumph at No. 15/17 Georgia.
Against the Bulldogs, Blue struck out a career-best seven and held UGA to its lowest hit total of the season to that date, allowing only three.
She also tossed a shutout in the 8-0 (5) win over No. --/24 LSU (4/20).
Savvy Veteran Sarratt Striking Down Foes
Julie Sarratt picked up SEC Pitcher of the Week honors on March 17 after going 2-0 with a save the week prior, which included a complete-game, nine-strikeout win over No. 13/15 Texas A&M.
Last year's leader in wins, ERA, innings pitched and strikeouts, Sarratt has 12 career marks in South Carolina's top 15 after her third year active on the roster.
Sarratt's fanned 140 batters in 170.1 innings, a rate (5.75 K/7IP), over a strikeout better her career standard (4.56 K/7IP) entering the year.
Sarratt struck out a career-high 10 in the win over Maryland, while she sat down nine in her complete-game victory over No. 13/15 Texas A&M, her best in an SEC game.
She was at her best with two strikes against right-handed hitters, holding them to a .155 batting average (30-of-193) with 85 of her K's in those circumstances.
Snaer Drove The Middle of the Order
Freshman Kaylea Snaer started the first 46 games before an arm injury took her out of the lineup for three weeks, returning to start all three games of the Tallahassee Regional.
While out, the Gamecocks managed to go 6-3 without their RBI (35) and walks (31) leader.
She had eight homers (T-7th) and 31 walks (T-5th), both in SC's top 10 in a season.
The first freshman to lead the Gamecocks in RBI since Jill Semento in 2008, Snaer earned third-team All-Southeast Region honors from the NFCA at first base.
Earning a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team, she had 14 hits in 20 league games, with nine going for extra bases (4 2B, 5 HR).
Snaer's posted two or more hits 11 times and multiple RBI in 12 games, the latter tops on the team.
Eighteen of Snaer's 35 RBI came with two outs.
We Scheduled Strong Foes
The Gamecocks played 24 of their 54 regular-season games against teams who made the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
South Carolina downed No. 3/3 Arizona State and went 8-16 against those teams in 2014.
A total of 35 of the Gamecocks' scheduled games came against teams that finished in the top 100 of the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index last year. Of those, 21 were against RPI top-50 teams.
After facing nothing but NCAA Tournament participants in SEC play in 2013, SC had two conference weekends against non-tourney teams in 2014 (home vs. Mississippi & Auburn).
Two of the Gamecocks' SEC contests were on national television, including the opening game to ESPN's national coverage at Tennessee on March 23.
And This Is How Tough It Was (Especially in the SEC)
When looking at this year's RPI, the Gamecocks went 13-19 against top-100 RPI teams during regular-season play, with the only loss outside of the top 100 coming to Maryland (147).
South Carolina rebounded to beat Maryland the next day.
Overall, South Carolina was 7-17 against RPI top-50 squads.
South Carolina played 11 of the 63 other teams in the NCAA Tournament in the regular season, going 9-16 against those squads.
Six of those 11 were SEC foes, teams that the Gamecocks went 6-12 against during the year.
Five opponents earned national seeds, with the Gamecocks posting a 2-10 mark against them (No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 Georgia, No. 9 Arizona State, No. 10 Tennessee, No. 16 Minnesota).
Rough SEC Road Prepares Teams for Postseason
South Carolina won half of its SEC three-game series this year for the first time since 2007 and for the sixth time since the advent of the three-game series in 2001 (2001-03, `05, `07).
The Gamecocks, with a .458 winning percentage this season, last had a mark in SEC play higher in 2003, when the team went 18-12 (.643).
South Carolina dropped eight of its first nine road contests in SEC play in 2014.
Those eight losses came against the No. 1, 3 and 4 ranked pitching staffs in ERA and No. 1, 2 and 4 offenses by batting average in the SEC.
In 2014, Alabama topped the league with a 2.13 ERA, while Georgia stood third at 2.26 and Tennessee fourth at 2.37.
Offensively, the Lady Vols topped the league with a .323 batting average (while ranking second with a .435 on-base percentage and .555 slugging percentage).
The Crimson Tide stood second with a .322 batting average, and Georgia ranked fourth at .312 (but second in slugging at .558).
The home series loss came to the third-best team by batting average, LSU (.314).
Monumental Series Wins for SC and Coach Smith vs. Texas A&M & Auburn
For the first time in program history, South Carolina won two series from ranked SEC opponents, taking two games from both Texas A&M and Auburn at the league's newest stadium.
South Carolina won its first series over a ranked SEC opponent since 2009 with a doubleheader sweep of No. 13/15 Texas A&M on March 15.
The second series win over the Auburn Tigers secured the eighth seed in the SEC Tournament.
In the Auburn series, the Tigers were held to 11 runs, their second-lowest output in SEC play this year (vs. Florida, 8).
Senior Codee Yeske earned SEC Player of the Week accolades after helping the Gamecocks to the two wins to end the regular season.
The A&M triumphs count as the first SEC series win in Carolina Softball Stadium.
The second win over the Aggies on March 15 marked Beverly Smith's 100th at South Carolina.
The come-from-behind win in game one in the bottom of the seventh is the first since March 11, 2012 vs. Arkansas.
Both of those games featured two-run, walk-off homers, Evan Childs with the one over the Hogs in 2012 and Ashlyn Masters with the shot against the Aggies.
Entering the seventh tied, the Gamecocks won their first game in that scenario in 2014. Five times, South Carolina did that in 2013, with three in SEC play (at Mississippi State and at Auburn twice).
Julie Sarratt earned SEC Pitcher of the Week honors for getting the win and the save during the doubleheader along with her win over Eastern Kentucky on March 11.
Gamecocks vs. Ranked Opponents
South Carolina is 100-239-1 (.296) all-time against opponents ranked in the NFCA top 25.
Broken down by site, the Gamecocks are 45-77 (.369) at home, 17-108 (.148) on the road and 38-54-1 (.414) in neutral-site outings.
In 2014, the Gamecocks went 6-13 against teams ranked in the NFCA poll at the time of the game, including a 2-8 mark on the road.
Twice, the Gamecocks won an SEC home series against ranked teams, downing Texas A&M and Auburn, the first time in history that had happened in the same season.
Last season, the Gamecocks went 3-16 (.158) against ranked foes, including a 2-7 mark when playing in the opponent's home park (W's at LSU and Kentucky).
South Carolina is now 2-24 against top-five opposition on the road, with one win being the 3-2 victory at No. 3/3 Arizona State on Feb. 27.
In Wins and Losses, Who (and What) Stood Out?
When the Gamecocks hit a homer, they went 27-9.
If they amass more hits than the foe, they went 30-2.
When holding opponents without a homer, South Carolina went 26-8.
In 16 of the 22 losses, the Gamecocks gave up eight hits or more. Only on four occasions did they win when allowing that many hits.
All but three of South Carolina's losses came when they've given up four or more earned runs. In fact, of the 168 team earned runs allowed, 127 came in the 22 losses.
The first loss without four earned runs allowed for the Gamecocks came in the first game at Arkansas (4/11), where five errors led to 10 unearned Arkansas runs in the 11-10 setback.
The second setback came in the second game against Longwood (4/26), when one earned run on a wild pitch felled the Gamecocks in a 1-0 loss in eight innings.
The final loss with only three earned runs allowed was the final game of the year vs. USF (5/17), as the Bulls scored twice in the seventh to eliminate SC from the Tallahassee Regional.
As a team, the Gamecocks slugged .528 in wins and .362 in losses and reached base at a .421 clip in wins and just .323 in losses.
The Gamecocks drew 141 walks and were hit 32 times in 36 wins and garnered only 69 free passes and 14 HBPs in 22 losses.
Power providers in wins include Ashlyn Masters (.422 BA, 24 XBH in W's, .262 BA, 6 XBH in L's), Sarah Mooney (.733 slugging percentage in W's, .389 in L's) and Chelsea Hawkins (.310/.384/.529 in W's, .160/.311/.220 in L's).
Seniors Hathorn (7-of-9) and Hawkins (6-of-9) led those efforts with runners on third and less than two outs.
South Carolina went 10-16 when getting one or less runners to third with less than two outs in 2014.
Only four times did the Gamecocks gotten three or more runners to third with less than two outs and not won the game (2/28 vs. Minnesota, 3/9 at Alabama, 3/14 vs. Texas A&M, 3/22 at Tenn.)
Milestone Wins for Gamecocks, Coach Smith Already Passed in '14
South Carolina has played 2,052 games in its softball history, going 1335-711-6 (.652) in its 41st season of sponsorship.
With the season-opening 1-0 win over Iowa, the Gamecocks gained their 1,300th program victory.
Head coach Beverly Smith claimed second alone on SC's coaching wins list with a 9-1 (5) win in the first game of the doubleheader against Furman.
She earlier took third with the 13-0 (5) victory vs. UNC Greensboro.
She is the third Gamecock head coach to coach a fourth season at South Carolina, joining Piel and NFCA Hall-of-Fame coach Joyce Compton.
Some People Loved Home Cooking; Others Shined on the Road in '14
Ashlyn Masters tended to like playing at home, posting a .400 batting average and a .730 slugging percentage in Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field against .311 and .527, respectively, away from home.
Ansley Ard also hit better at home (.415/.492/.566 vs. .235/.297/.324).
One game was lost due to rain as well, the only rainout of the year for the Gamecocks.
Opening Weekend Notes
South Carolina spent the opening weekend at home at the newly-finished Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field, a year after spending the first five weeks on the road waiting for construction to finish.
The Gamecocks went 3-1 in the Carolina Classic, posting three shutouts on the weekend.
South Carolina last recorded three shutouts in its first four games in 2003. The team had two shutouts in its first four games from 2004-07.
Freshman Kaylea Snaer hit two homers in her first weekend in the Garnet and Black, while rookie Nickie Blue went 3-0, pitching in all four games.