It's been a tough couple of weekends for the South Carolina baseball team, but things won't get any easier this weekend when the Gamecocks travel to Florida.
It's a pivotal series that features two teams with identical 8-7 records in the SEC. Both No. 24 South Carolina and No. 12 Florida are two games back of Kentucky for first place in the SEC East. The series starts on Thursday, and it will be the first of three straight marquee starting pitching matchups.
Clarke Schmidt (4-1, 1.31 ERA) faces Florida ace Alex Faedo (5-1, 2.84 ERA) in the opener on Thursday, Wil Crowe (3-3, 3.49 ERA) goes up against Brady Singer (4-2, 1.68 ERA) and Adam Hill (2-3, 2.14 ERA) will close the series with a matchup against Jackson Kowar (6-0, 3.51 ERA).
"We'll have our work cut out for us with three of the best pitchers in the country," head coach Chad Holbrook said. "Our guys are pretty good too. It sets up to be a really big series for them and for us. Everyone is closely matched in the league, and everyone is bunched together from a wins and loss standpoint. We just have to go down there and try to play our best baseball."
One thing the Gamecocks could have going for them is that they have played well away from Founders Park thus far with a 6-2 road record entering the series at Gainesville. The offense has been much sharper on the road as the team seems to play with a lot less pressure.
"I like the way we've played on the road," Holbrook said. "Our guys relax a little bit on the road and take a deep breath. Hopefully that will continue."
South Carolina played a series at Auburn in which the Gamecocks played great baseball, according to Holbrook. In fact, the Gamecocks were about to take two of three before the Tigers' Conor Davis launched a pinch-hit, two-out walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Gamecocks have lost four of six SEC games since, all at home.
"That loss on Sunday (at Auburn) might have sucked the wind out of us for a week or so," Holbrook said. "I don't know. It hurt. Our kids laid it on the line and played their tails off. Maybe we're just recovering from that."
During those last two weekend series, South Carolina dropped games one and two before recovering to avoid the sweep on Sunday. The goal for the Gamecocks is to come out of the gates strong on Thursday and play the best baseball of the season. There is no question about the talent of No. 24 South Carolina, a preseason top-five team in virtually every poll.
"I think we can match up with anyone we play, if we play well," Holbrook said. "Everything has to be clicking. We can't leave one aspect of the game in the locker room and expect to win."
First pitch for Thursday's opener is set for 7:30 p.m. and can be seen on ESPNU.
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Allen Sharpe**