**Story by Jeff Owens/Photo by Jenny Dilworth**
Despite a tough series loss to Auburn last weekend, South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook likes where his team stands at the halfway point of the season and heading into a huge SEC series against Vanderbilt.
"We're halfway through the season, we've won 20 games in a tough schedule, and maybe could have won a couple more that were in the balance, a pitch here or a pitch there," said Holbrook, whose nationally ranked Gamecocks are 20-8, 6-3 in the SEC.
"We're in a good spot. We have a lot to play for. The goals that we set forth, and where we are in the league we have everything in front of us. Our players have put us in a pretty good position for the next 28."
South Carolina started strong in SEC play, sweeping Tennessee and winning two of three from Alabama. It lost two of three at Auburn last weekend on a walk-off home run on Sunday.
It plays host to Vanderbilt (19-11, 4-5) Thursday (7 p.m.), Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (noon) at Founders Park. Men's basketball star Sindarius Thornwell, the SEC Player of the Year who led the Gamecocks to the Final Four, will throw out the first pitch Thursday night. Dawn Staley, who led the South Carolina women to the national championship, will throw out the first pitch Saturday.
South Carolina leads the SEC with a team ERA of 2.72 (2.87 in league play), while holding opponents to a .216 batting average. Wil Crowe (3-1, 3.00) will start for the Gamecocks Thursday night, while Clark Schmidt (4-0, 0.90) will start Friday night. Schmidt is coming off an eight-inning shutout against Auburn and is holding opponents to a .191 average. Sophomore Adam Hill (1-3, 2.15) will be on the mound Saturday.
The Gamecocks are batting .279 as a team — .262, fifth in the league, in SEC play — with a .363 on-base percentage and .418 slugging. They have hit 24 home runs.
Second baseman LT Tolbert leads the team with a .333 batting average and 15 RBI and is coming off a big series at Auburn, while third baseman Jonah Bride is hitting .323 with 14 RBI. Sophomore Jacob Olson also had a big series at Auburn, going 5-for-10, and is hitting .304 with a team-high five home runs, 18 RBI and a .520 slugging percentage.
Freshman Carlos Cortes had a breakout series at last week, going 5-for11, including a triple and a grand slam, and six RBI.
The Vanderbilt games are the first of seven big SEC series over the next two months, five of them against nationally ranked teams as the Gamecocks hope to win the SEC East again and return to the NCAA Tournament.
"Obviously we have some big-time opponents on the schedule going forward, but it will be a lot of fun," Holbrook said. "As we continue to get better, I feel good about where we are. We've won 13 of our last 16 and have a good chemistry going. We certainly need that as we go into the meat of our schedule.”
TV SCHEDULE: Thursday, SEC Network (7 p.m.); Friday, ESPNU (7 p.m.); Saturday, ESPN2 (noon).