Halfway through SEC play, South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston knows one thing for sure: He’s got a resilient club.
More often that not, the No. 11 Gamecocks have had to be resilient over the past month or so. In their first five conference series, the Gamecocks have gone 1-4 in series openers, putting them in do-or-die situations the rest of the weekend to win the series. And for the most part they have done it, going 9-1 and claiming four consecutive series victories.
“This is a group of fighters. This team will never give in. This team doesn’t panic if things get tough. We had a losing streak, and we had a huge winning streak after that. So this is a team that loves to play, it’s a team that comes out to fight and loves to compete,” Kingston said.
Starting Thursday, though, USC will face perhaps its toughest challenge yet when No. 1 Arkansas comes to town. The Razorbacks are 30-6 overall, 11-4 in conference play, and haven’t lost a series all year.
“This is what it’s all about,” Kingston said. “This is why we all come here and want to be a part of it. So just real excited for it, and our team will be prepared to play, and we’ll see how it goes, but we’ll be ready to go.”
Scouting the Razorbacks
While South Carolina has faced many of the top pitchers in the country in the first half of SEC play, this weekend it will face an Arkansas squad more known for its hitting. The Razorbacks top the conference and the nation in walks and home runs and boast top-15 national marks in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and runs per game.
“It’s a good offense. They’ve got a lot of lefties in that lineup they can throw at you,” Kingston said. “They’re athletic, they have some strength. Obviously they have a lot of power numbers. So it’ll be a nice challenge. But again, you can shy away from a challenge or you can try to attack a challenge, and that’s what we’ll do. It’ll be really good pitching versus really good hitting.”
Attendance and weather
Thursday’s 7 p.m. game will mark the first game at Founders Park since South Carolina announced it was increasing capacity for the rest of 2021, allowing as many as 3,350 fans in to the stadium, up from 1,938. That, combined with the high-profile series, has USC’s players and coaches expecting a raucous environment.
“I mean, you see what the fans have done with 25% (capacity),” senior outfielder Andrew Eyster said. “So having essentially twice that amount, it’s gonna be huge for us and it’s gonna be a loud stadium. Even the last couple weeks, with a quarter of the capacity that we’re allowed, it’s been louder than I’ve ever heard it in my three years being here. So we’re all super excited to have it at 50%.”
The last time South Carolina hosted a No. 1 team was in 2016, when the No. 2 Gamecocks and No. 1 Florida split the first two games of a series before the finale was canceled due to inclement weather.
Ironically enough, weather also threatens the series finale this weekend — the latest forecasts project a 100% chance of rain on Saturday, with the heaviest downpour expected in the afternoon. First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Kingston confirmed Wednesday that he and Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn have been in contact about the threat of weather and have discussed playing a doubleheader Friday to try to get the full series in, but nothing official has been announced yet.
Run support for Farr
While South Carolina has thus far managed to bounce back from series opening struggles to secure wins, those issues have not been good for Friday night starter Thomas Farr. His ERA of 3.28 is solid, but his record is 2-3 and he hasn’t recorded a win since March 5 against Mercer.
Since then, Farr hasn’t been flawless. He hasn’t gone six innings in an outing in the last month and has struggled some with command. But he also hasn’t been helped much by his offense. Even counting a 12-1 Opening Day win with Farr on the mound, the Gamecocks are averaging 4.2 runs in games he starts, compared to 7.28 in all other games. In 26 innings on the mound in SEC play, Farr has received 11 runs from his offense.
“I know all the hitters feel kind of bad about the run support we’ve given him this year,” Eyster said. “It’s Friday night in the SEC, but we still need to do a better job just coming out on Friday with more energy, more ... focus maybe? We simply have to do a better job. There’s no reason we can’t give him at least two runs Friday ... He’s pitched better than his record indicates”.
Of course, South Carolina’s problems supporting Farr make more sense when you consider the caliber of talent the Gamecocks have had to face in series openers. In the last six weeks (SEC play and a series against Texas), Farr has gone head-to-head with five pitchers ranked among the top 250 in Prospects Live’s 2021 MLB Draft big board, including three in the top 25.
“I mean, it’s baseball: Good pitching usually beats good hitting, and Friday night we’re facing major league pitchers,” Kingston said. “And people keep asking, ‘What is the different approach in game three compared to game one?’ There is no different approach. You do the same things, but the guy that’s on the mound tends to have a big impact on how much success you have.”
Next USC Baseball Game
Who: No. 11 South Carolina (24-10, 10-5 SEC) vs. No. 1 Arkansas (30-6, 11-4)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Founders Park
Watch: SEC Network