It is no secret that the South Carolina baseball team has been scuffling through the month of May. The Gamecocks had been struggling in almost every way since sweeping the Florida Gators at the end of April. The Carolina pitching staff has performed poorly, both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen. The Gamecock bats have been slightly below average but extremely poor in situational hitting opportunities. And South Carolina’s entire team has been struggling to get and stay healthy.
The Gamecocks baseball program was a shoo-in to be selected as a top-8 national seed as recently as just a couple of weeks ago, but that dream is all but gone at this point. South Carolina finds itself on the top-16 (regional hosts) bubble and is likely on the outside looking in, needing a few wins in the SEC Tournament in order to be in a position to potentially host.
On Tuesday, Carolina took care of the first step up the hosting ladder as they dominated the Georgia Bulldogs in round one of the SEC Tournament. Hoover Metropolitan Stadium was witness to a spectacular pitching performance from James Hicks. The usual-reliever had only started three games on the season before having his biggest start against the ‘Dawgs, and he delivered in a big-time way for coach Mark Kingston. Hicks finished his day with 6 and 2/3 innings of scoreless ball. He gave up just four hits and was flat-out dominant for most of his outing.
The Gamecock bats were also much better. On a wet and windy day that kept every ball inside the yard, South Carolina’s offense still crossed home plate nine times. The Gamecocks totaled twelve base hits and walked six times.
Having offensive success without needing the home run ball is something South Carolina baseball has not done much this season, so Monday’s result should be encouraging to Gamecock fans. Georgia was in a do-or-die situation in the Tournament, as well, as the Bulldogs needed to win the whole thing to have a postseason opportunity. Even through Georgia’s best effort, Carolina performed well, and the Gamecock energy in the dugout (and on the field) was the highest it has been in a while.
Six Gamecocks reached base more than once on the day, and bottom-of-the-order contributors Will Tippett and Evan Stone led the way with five hits while knocking in five runs. Cade Austin was very good in relief of Hicks, shutting the door for the remaining 2 and 1/3 innings of the ball game.
The 9-0 shutout of the ‘Dawgs was the Gamecocks’ first-ever shutout at the SEC Tournament.
South Carolina baseball will move on to the double-elimination portion of the SEC Tournament where they will take on the LSU Tigers at 10:30 on Wednesday on the SECNetwork.