Sunday, May 4, 2014

Wrapping up the weekend, May 4

* Clemson took a break from the ACC schedule and built some momentum with  two wins over James Madison and one over UNLV. The Tigers improved too 28-19, and have a solid chance to win their final nine games (one apiece with UNLV, High Point and Furman and three apiece with ACC second-division teams Boston College and Notre Dame).

A 37-19 record might not be good enough to get the Tigers back in the regional host conversation, but it would put them in position for consideration should they go, say, 3-1 in the ACC Tournament.

Starting pitchers Zach Erwin, Matthew Crownover and Daniel Gossett all continued their solid work.

Tigers coach Jack Leggett tweaked his lineup, moving Jay Baum to shortstop, Garrett Boulware to left field and Tyler Krieger to designated hitter. Krieger's defensive struggles at shortstop may have been the root cause for the moves.

* South Carolina's wretched run of injuries continued over the weekend during the 1-2 series loss to Georgia. First, D.C. Arendas was hit on the ear during batting practice prior to Friday's series opener, then he because ill and was out the next two games.

With four opening-day starters out of the lineup, coach Chad Holbrook has had to resort to everything short of baling wire and duct tape to field a lineup, making USC's 35-13 record pretty impressive.  Freshmen Gene Cone and Jordan Gore had combined for six starts over USC's first 33 games. Since then, Cone, Gore and redshirt senior Patrick Harrington have combined for 29 starts over the next 15 games.

All three contributed offensively over the final two games of the Georgia series, but Holbrook obviously entered the year thinking they weren't as good as the players they've had to replace.

USC left 15 runners on base during Saturday's 5-2 victory. A lack of confidence appears to be permeating the team's offensive mindset.
How dire are the Gamecocks' offensive straits? Tanner English, who never will be considered one of the team's bashers, batted fifth on Sunday. That's not much protection for cleanup hitter Grayson Greiner.

It's commendable that USC entered the weekend still in the discussion for a national seed.  The Gamecocks' next priority after getting healthy is to finish third or fourth in the overall SEC standings. The top four teams - the two division champions and the next two best records - don't have to play in the single-elimination opening around of the SEC tournament.

If the Gamecocks can go 5-3 over their final eight regular season games to finish 40-16, would that be enough to earn one of the eight national seeds? Depending on how the other national seed contenders do, I don't think it would be. That means the Gamecocks might need a two or three wins at Hoover to enhance their chances to be a national seed.

I think a secondary (seeds 9-16) regional host spot is still very likely for the Gamecocks, but they're going to need a few more wins to clinch that, too.

* Coming off its first shutout victory since 2011 and facing a Georgia Southern team that had been strong outside the league but only middling in Southern Conference play to date, Furman entered the weekend hoping to move up in the conference standings. Instead the Paladins were swept and were caught by Wofford for eighth place in the standings with two weekends remaining.

* My unofficial calculations indicate The Citadel cannot escape being in one of the two single-elimination play-in games to open the Southern Conference Tournament in Charleston. The Bulldogs cannot finish in sixth place,- the lowest spot to avoid the opening-round games.

* Coastal Carolina had a chance to salvage Game 3 of its series at N.C. State, leading 4-3 entering the bottom of the eighth. Instead, the Chanticleers fell victim to a five-run rally by the Wolfpack, a preseason Top 5 team that has struggled most of the season.

* College of Charleston dropped out of first place in the Colonial Athletic Association by losing its first two games at UNC Wilmington. The Cougars did get things righted in time to win Sunday's series finale, 7-4. The College is two games behind first-place William & Mary.

W&M steps out of the conference to play Gardner-Webb next weekend while College of Charleston visits last-place Towson. If the Cougars don't stumble at Towson, they can decide their regular-season title fate when they play host to William & Mary to end the regular season.

* USC Aiken got good news. Georgia College couldn't sweep North Georgia, meaning the Pacers captured the third seed for next weekend's Peach Belt Conference tournament. The eight-team, single-elimination event is scheduled to be held over two days at Aiken's Roberto Hernandez Stadium. The Pacers also split a non-conference weekend series with South Atlantic Conference champion Catawba.

* Francis Marion also had a good weekend, winning two of three over Young Harris to move into the eighth seed for the PBC Tournament.  The Patriots' reward? Top-seeded and nationally second-ranked Lander. It's a challenge, but as the folks hawking lottery tickets say, "you can't win if you don't play."

 * Erskine  probably already was a long, long shot to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Division II playoffs. Going 1-2 against a good Wingate program did nothing to shorten the odds.

* Some weather-shortened series and a couple of late series losses led to USC Sumter being the fifth seed for the eight-team NJCAA Region 10 Tournament. Two rounds in the event, first-year coach Tim Medlin's Fire Ants are sitting pretty. They and Louisburg - the sixth seed - are the only two unbeatens entering Monday's third round.

* Voorhees probably spent more time at the hotel than at the stadium for the rain-shortened Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Tournament in Jacksonville. The Tigers lost to regular-season champion Talladega on Wednesday, then found out Jacksonville's weather has more in common with south Georgia than south Florida. Voorhees couldn't get in a game on Thursday or Friday, then took a 2-0 lead over Tougaloo Saturday morning before rain struck again and brought the tournament to an end.

Coach Robert Platts completed his second season of trying to resurrect the program with a 3-35 record.  However, the Tigers played more close games and had fewer shortened by the NAIA's run rule than they did a season ago. Progress is progress.

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