Sunday, March 27, 2016

Wrapping up the weekend, March 27

Six games into the 30-game Southeastern Conference schedule, South Carolina has built a two-game lead over Florida, Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the East Division standings.

The Gamecocks had perhaps the biggest weekend of any of the state's baseball teams, although it was a noteworthy Easter weekend for several teams. The reasons follow.

* Claflin got a nice three-game series sweep at Morehouse in SIAC play. The Panthers hit .415 in the series.
* Clemson came home empty from its spring trip to Florida, going 0-3 at Top 5 team Miami. But coach Monte Lee's Tigers can find some positives among the negatives in the first series loss of the season.

In spite of Clemson's 10 errors, two Miami victories came in its final at-bat. The Tigers took the lead early in all three games.

The Tigers hit .296 for the series. Freshman Seth Beer homered twice and extended his hitting streak to 21 games. Chris Okey was 9-for-14 and Chase Pinder was 7-for-14.

Pitching was an issue, even when taking the defense into account. Clemson starters combined to throw 11 innings, allowing 19 hits, 16 runs, 10 earned runs and 10 walks while striking out nine. Relief pitching was slightly better, compiling a composite line of 15.2 innings, 17 hits, 8 runs, 6 earned runs and 10 walks while striking out 10.

As much as the Tigers struggled on the mound and in the field, they were still within striking distance of a 2-1 road series win against a highly regarded team.

* Coastal Carolina rebounded from a midweek lost to College of Charleston with a nonconference sweep of Stetson. The Chanticleers scored 40 runs in the three victories. It's the first time Coastal had hit double figures in three straight games since the 210 Big South Conference Tournament.

The Chanticleers hit nine homers in three games, including a school record-tying six in Friday's game.  Tyler Chadwick had three homers and hit .583 for the series, while G.K. Young hit .583 and Michael Paez homered twice in an inning on Friday.

* College of Charleston followed its victory over Coastal Carolina with a weekend sweep of Delaware to open Colonial Athletic Association play.

* Francis Marion cooled off Lander by winning two of three games at Dolny Stadium in Greenwood. The Patriots scored in their final at-bat in their two victories.

* Furman got a nice series victory over preseason favorite Samford in its opening SoCon series. The Paladins were able to minimize the damage by NCAA Division I home run leader Heath Quinn of the Bulldogs.

* Newberry got a complete-game shutout from Daniel Nations in the series opener, then rallied in both ends of a Saturday doubleheader to sweep Wingate in South Atlantic Conference play.

* North Greenville set up a showdown for the Conference Carolinas lead at Belmont Abbey next weekend by winning three games at Pfeiffer. Both teams are 14-1 in league play. Nathaniel Maggio extended his single-season school home run record to 15 with a pair of blasts in Saturday's nightcap.

* As good as South Carolina's program has been for most of the last two decades, it's hard to believe the Gamecocks are off to a 6-0 start in the Southeastern Conference for the first time ever. The 3-0 sweep of at Mississippi over the weekend was built on superb starting pitching and timely hitting. Freshmen pitchers  Braden Webb and Adam Hill didn't appear rattled playing in front of a big crowd on the road.

The offensive production was spread through most of the USC lineup all three days.

I have no comprehensive data to support it, but it seems the Gamecocks are squaring up and hitting more line drives this year as opposed to more uppercuts and flyouts last season. One statistic does support my claim, though. The Gamecocks have hit 48 doubles in 25 games this season. They hit 63 in 57 games last year.

The weekend sweep likely will vault the Gamecocks into the Top 10 in several national rankings when they are announced on Monday. The next conference series for the Gamecocks is another Top 10 opponent, Vanderbilt, again on the road.

* J.P. Sears struck out 19 batters in eight innings of The Citadel's series opener at VMI.  It was the most strikeouts in the NCAA this season and one short of the school record. Rodney Hancock struck out 20 Furman batters in 1999. Sears' previous career high was 12 against Virginia Tech earlier this season.
* USC Aiken took sole possession of first place in the Peach Belt Conference by winning two of three against Montevallo while Lander was going 1-2 against Francis Marion. The Pacers overcame deficits of 5-0 and 7-3 to take a 9-7 lead in Saturday's first game only to allow four runs in the ninth and lose 11-9.

* USC Sumter went 6-0 for the week, including a four-game series sweep at USC Salkehatchie to move in first place in NJCAA Region 10 after three weekends of league play. Coach Tim Medlin's squad has won 11 straight overall

Even though Salkehatchie entered the weekend in a tie for last place in the region, it was anything but a cakewalk for the Fire Ants. Sumter pushed across a run in the seventh inning and Jamie Morlan made it stand up with a two-hit shutout in the opener.  Two other times, the Fire Ants fell behind before rallying to win.

Another stiff test awaits next week with a home series against USC Lancaster.

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