Just a Bit Outside-Playoffs
“Playoffs?! Don’t talk to me about playoffs! Are you kidding me? Playoffs?! I just hope we win a game!” When you hear that infamous Jim Mora rant, no doubt you think about football season. But, I have found some relevance to it for the current state of things with baseball season. The high school baseball playoffs start Friday night. Many South Carolina baseball fans right now are getting angry and frustrated at the Gamecocks’ recent struggles both on the mound and at the plate. They’re all just hoping to just win a game right now. But, should fans be worried? I feel like a broken record writing about this yet again. But, no. And I will explain why in a bit. But, first, let’s give you the matchups and possible opponents moving to the next round for our high schools in the playoffs.
2A Upperstate District 1
Friday 7:00 PM
Winner will play the winner of Christ Church at Crescent on Monday, May 17th.
Loser will meet the loser of Christ Church-Crescent Monday.
2A Upperstate District 2
Gray Collegiate (H)
Friday 8:00 PM
Winner will play the winner of Abbeville at Legion Collegiate on Monday, May 17th.
Loser will play the loser of Abbeville-Legion Collegiate on Monday.
3A Upperstate District 2
Friday 6:00 PM
Winner will play the winner of Fairfield-Central at West Oak on Monday, May 17th.
Loser will play the loser of FC-West Oak Monday.
5A Upperstate District 1
Boiling Springs (H)
Friday 7:00 PM
Winner will play the winner of Northwestern at Hillcrest Monday, May 17th.
Loser will play the loser of NW-Hillcrest on Monday.
5A Upperstate District 2
Friday 7:00 PM
Winner will take on the winner of JL Mann at Blythewood Monday, May 17th.
Loser will take on the loser of Mann-Blythewood on Monday.
I will spare the matchup breakdowns, but if I had to make predictions for who will be moving on in the winner’s bracket, in 2A, I have no doubt Landrum will take care of Batesburg-Leesville, and will probably run the table all the way to the district championship. Chesnee will have a tough fight on their hands on the road against a Gray Collegiate squad that went undefeated in region play, only having given up 6 runs while scoring 96 in that region stretch, and is also 20-6 on the season. While the Eagles have the offensive ability to keep up, and they have a capable arm in Cole Hoskyns, I just don’t know if they can hold Gray Collegiate down.
In 3A, Chapman’s pitching duo of Banks Atkins and Ricky Montalvo as well as their good hitters are more than enough to propel them all the way through the table to the district title. I don’t think they will have too difficult a time with Blue Ridge.
In 5A, that Boiling Springs-Byrnes game intrigues me. These 2 met early on in the season, with Byrnes sweeping the 2 game set in close games. Boiling Springs was having a hard time getting their pitching in a rhythm early on. But, over the last 3 weeks, the Bulldogs have established some dominance, outsourcing opponents 64-12 with a pair of shutouts. This one has all the makings of a barn burner and I look forward to seeing it Friday night. I believe it will come down to the final out, and with the home field advantage, that favors the Dogs.
Dorman and Nation Ford isn’t as intriguing of a matchup, and I suspect that Dorman will be able to win it convincingly.
Now.. let’s talk about the Gamecocks real quick. South Carolina is in the midst of murderers row 2.0. 2 weeks ago, they were swept by Ole Miss. Mississippi State slugged their way past the Gamecocks to win the series, although South Carolina did pick up a much-needed walkoff 4-3 win in 11 innings in the series finale this past Sunday. Lastly, nothing will agitate the South Carolina fanbase like losing just 1 game to Clemson, even if the Gamecocks have already won the series. The Tigers scored 2 unearned runs in the 5th inning to take the lead and really never looked back. South Carolina was only able to muster 2 solo home runs for offense while leaving a small city on base through the first 3 innings. This poor offensive showing continued a trend that started in the Ole Miss series. The road doesn’t at all get any easier for South Carolina as they take on a pretty good Kentucky team this weekend and then wrap up SEC play with a hot hitting Tennessee.
So, what are the issues South Carolina has that are concerning? Honestly, the problems the Gamecocks have are super amplified right now because of where we are in the schedule and because of the major slump they are in. This is nothing new for Carolina. They always have a rough stretch at the end of the season. It usually happens in the last couple of weeks of the season and is followed by a real short run in Hoover.
The issues South Carolina are experiencing right now have been going on all season. They have left 352 runners on base & struck out 437 times. This is a product of the type of offense they have, which relies heavily on the ole “bloop and a blast.” Get a runner or 2 on and then hit a homer or get a huge extra base hit. In spite of all those strikeouts and runners being left on, the Gamecocks had been finding ways to win and it was somewhat masking the issue. Now that they are in a late-season slump, it has amplified the strikeout and runners left on base problem.
Something else the Gamecocks have not quite excelled at this year is pitching. While the rotation is solid with Thomas Farr, Brannon Jordan, and Will Sanders, they all have been average to below average for the last month or so. Neither has given a lot of longevity, averaging around 4 innings per game, and they have given up a lot of walks that have come back to bite them. Granted, when you look at who they have played in that stretch, you can’t really fault them for struggling. Ole Miss is a good power hitting team that will make you pay when you get traffic on the base paths. Mississippi State is also loaded with power up and down the lineup, and even their outs were 100 mph off the bat. They have that same ability to make you pay for allowing base runners.
But even so, the Gamecocks’ rotation has been slumping as hard as the offense. Against Mississippi State, Kingston shook up the rotation, moving Thomas Farr to Sunday in hopes that it would relax him some and help boost his confidence after he turned in his worst outing of the season by far at Ole Miss. It was a good move on Kingston’s part, contrary to what many fans would say, since in all reality South Carolina was only going to realistically have a chance to win one in the series, as well as only needing to win one to maintain their RPI and chances to host a regional (that was also the case at Ole Miss, however they got swept).
All of that said, what can we realistically expect from the Gamecocks going forward and what do they need to do? The answer is simple. I don’t know. The Gamecocks offense can be as high-potential as the Braves when everybody is hot. But right now, they aren’t. From this point on, it is a matter of trying to get hot at the right time and make a push to at least make a super regional. The Gamecocks are set as a tournament team so long as they don’t lose out, which is unlikely.
The obvious thing is that they will have to work on actually having a plan at the plate.
One thing contributing to the high strikeout numbers is the fact that all season long they have gone up the plate just looking for a fastball or something up in the zone to drive, & quickly end up in the hole 0-2. With 2 strikes the approach just gets worse. They have chased a lot of off speed pitches away. Even if they have been sitting on the offspeed, they have taken hittable pitches for called strike 3.
There have been moments where they have done a great job of adjusting and working counts as games get into the mid to late innings (for example, in game 2 of the Mississippi State series they got back into the game by taking some pitches, drawing walks, and taking advantage of the Bulldogs’ mistakes by getting a couple of big home runs late from Wes Clarke and Andrew Eyster. In the late rally for the win in the 3rd game, they also did a great job of being patient and had some great ABs).If they had come at it with a good approach from the beginning, they’d be ok. But for the most part they have just flopped at the plate, lacking discipline, & against elite pitching in the midst of a tough stretch where you’re just hoping to win 1 per series, that is amplified.
Another thing they need to do is cut down on errors. There have been several instances where the Gamecocks have been their own worst enemy. They’ve committed 41 errors this season that have led to 31 unearned runs. We have seen it rear its ugly head against Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Extra outs and free passes bite you when you face teams that do have a plan at the plate and can execute in the clutch.
Why should Carolina fans remain calm? Simple. They have done enough to get in. Carolina fans may say I am crazy, but that is a good outcome for this season. With the injury plagued season where they didn’t make the postseason in 2019 and with the shortened season last year, the most realistic expectation for Carolina was to just make the tournament and host a regional if they can. That is exactly what they are shaping up for barring a disastrous finish to the season.
Right now, they are looking like a potential host or a solid 2 seed. In order to host, they will need to win their last midweek game (Appalachian State), and either win one of these last 2 series, or gun for just 1 and then have to win a game or so in Hoover. If they don’t they will definitely be a 2 seed. The only thing they cannot afford at all from here is to get swept again. If that happens, it could be the difference between being a 2 seed and being a 3.