Gamecocks playing best ball of season entering SEC tournament

Gamecocks playing best ball of season entering SEC tournament

**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Allen Sharpe**

South Carolina wasn't able to get the sweep over No. 18 LSU on Sunday, falling to the Tigers by a final score of 4-2. However, thanks to two wins in the first two games of the series, the Gamecocks still have plenty of momentum heading into the SEC tournament later in the week.

South Carolina defeated LSU, 5-4, on Friday before picking up another exciting, 4-3 victory on Saturday evening that clinched the Gamecocks' first series win over LSU since 2005. South Carolina closed out the regular season with wins in five of its final seven games.

South Carolina-LSU game one recap

"I'm very confident with this team, and I think what you're seeing right now is they're playing loose, playing confident and I believe we're playing our best ball, which is what you want this time of year," head coach Beverly Smith said. 

The Gamecocks (32-22, 8-15 SEC) honored their seniors all weekend long, and fittingly enough all of them contributed to the series victory.

On Friday, Jessica Elliott pitched a fantastic game to pick up the victory and Taylor Williams registered a key sacrifice bunt in a four-run inning and made a couple of great defensive plays in the outfield. Saturday's game honored Kaylea Snaer and Macey Webb, and Snaer put the Gamecocks on the board with a RBI single in the first while Webb singled and scored in the third.

On Sunday, it was Victoria Williams' and Nickie Blue's day. Williams had both of South Carolina's RBIs in the game while Blue pitched a scoreless inning in her final appearance at Carolina Softball Stadium.

"It was a special weekend," Smith said. "All of the seniors stepped up. They all had a great Senior Day and they've picked up their game. I think the underclassmen raised their level too and played for the seniors." 

LSU (38-17, 12-12 SEC) jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning on Sunday after an error by third baseman Kamryn Watts. Emily Griggs led off the game with a double before Sahvanna Jaquish reached on the error by Watts. Bailey Landry's single brought Griggs home for a 1-0 lead, and after a fly ball out and a walk Constance Quinn hit a sacrifice fly to right field to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead. Gamecock starting pitcher Cayla Drotar was able to get a groundout to limit the damage to just those two runs.

LSU was able to tack on two more runs in the top of the fourth after three consecutive singles to lead off the frame. Amber Serrett's sacrifice fly made it 3-0 and Elyse Thornhill registered a RBI groundout to give the Tigers a 4-0 advantage.

The Gamecocks were able to cut the lead in half in the fifth inning, thanks to help from one of the aforementioned seniors. With one out, Watts reached on an error and Tiara Duffy ran out an infield single to put South Carolina in business. Senior Victoria Williams then dropped a double into left field to score both runners and cut LSU's lead in half.

While it would've been nice to cap the weekend with a sweep, Victoria Williams was incredibly proud of her team's effort and the series win on senior weekend.

"We always preach about playing our best ball at the end of the season, and how we're playing right now is a testament to that," Victoria Williams said. "We work so hard throughout the season, and we're seeing the fruit of all that hard work right now."

South Carolina now waits to see who it will face in the SEC tournament. Thanks to the strong end to the regular season, the Gamecocks should be comfortably in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive year. 

Smith was very confident in this year's group before the season even started, and that certainly hasn't changed. Having two veteran pitchers in Elliott and Blue is a tremendous advantage for any team. 

"With us having so much experience in Nickie Blue and Jessica Elliott, we're going to be in a position to win every game we play," Smith said. 

There are seniors sprinkled throughout the lineup as well, along with some excellent young talent. Entering the postseason on a roll, the Gamecocks hope to make some noise in Knoxville for the conference tournament.

"I think there's been tremendous growth," Smith said of her team. "I like the depth of this team. We're talented and you can move people around. We've won a lot of different ways. There's nothing that teaches you better than going through the SEC season. I'm excited about rolling into the tournament and postseason."