Oklahoma State squares off with South Carolina tomorrow in Game 1 of the Columbia Super Regional. The Pokes come off a 3-0 regional series that included a shutout of Nebraska, and a 21-4 run differential over Clemson for two games.
The Cowboys dominated the highly talented and explosive Tigers, but a tough challenge awaits them in the Super Regionals with South Carolina.
We talked with Sydney Hunte, co-manager of Garnet and Black Attack, the South Carolina SBNation platform. We asked him some burning questions and he will help us get a better understanding of what makes the Gamecocks go. A special thank you to Sydney and GABAttack for taking the time to answer these questions. Here we go:
1. How would you sum up South Carolina's overall success this season? Have they met expectations, or exceeded the broad expectation set for them?
South Carolina baseball fans have very, very high expectations of their program, especially after back-to-back national championships in 2010 and 2011 and a runner-up finish in 2012 in what turned out to be Ray Tanner's final year at the helm. He ended up becoming the athletic director and handed the reins of the team over to his assistant coach, Chad Holbrook (as you probably know, another one of Tanner's former assistants, Monte Lee, ended up at Clemson after several very successful years at College of Charleston). So, as you'd imagine, when the team went from a Super Regional appearance in 2013 to losing in their own regional in 2014, to missing the postseason altogether in 2015, Holbrook was feeling the heat.
Long story short, I think what Holbrook's done this year thus far has silenced his critics for the most part - and that's despite his style of in-game managing arguably costing the team a few games. Overall, though, I would sum it up as very successful; at the same time, if this team is unable to get to the College World Series, it will be seen as a disappointment given what fans have been trained to expect down here.
2. Who are a few players to keep an eye on for the Gamecocks?
Several players caught fire during the regional for South Carolina, and one of those players was Gene Cone. He was spectacular last weekend and really hit the ball well in regional play (11-20, 8 RBI). DC Arendas struggled at the plate in the regular season but looks to have found his offense (7-12, 2 HR in his last three games), while TJ Hopkins (8-21, 6 RBI) and Alex Destino (7-20, 7 RBI, HR) are a few other guys to watch. On the mound, the team has a couple of very good starters in Adam Hill and Braden Webb, and their performance will set the tone for whether or not this team will make it through to Omaha. A wild card to keep a watch on: Tyler Johnson, a reliever/closer, who went the distance in an elimination game on Sunday in what will go down as one of the great clutch pitching performances in Gamecocks postseason history. Given the way the team's other weekend starter, Clarke Schmidt, has struggled this postseason (five runs on six hits and three walks in a start on Friday), that's a little bit of a sticky situation for Holbrook if this goes to a third game.
3. What are South Carolina's strengths as a team? Conversely, what are their weaknesses?
The Gamecocks' strength, as I alluded to above, is their starting pitching. If they're on the game and if the offense is rolling (as it did over the last four games of the regional), this is going to be a team that is tough to beat. On the other hand, that bullpen is a little shaky with a lot of high-three, lower-five ERA guys down there. Fortunately, they didn't have to go too terribly deep in regionals (and when they did go to the pen, it was their more reliable names), but if the Cowboys are able to touch up the Gamecocks' starters and force Holbrook to lean on his bullpen more than necessary, it should be an interesting weekend. Another weakness for this team is situational hitting. They looked to have rectified this in some fashion over the last few games of the regional, but one of the struggles this team has had in past weeks is leaving men on base and being unable to cash in on RISP opportunities. Some would point to Holbrook's coaching style as a factor, but even with that aside, there are several games that you can point to from earlier in the season that probably could have gone down as wins if this team had gotten a hit at the right time.
4. How do you beat South Carolina? Is there a specific way you've seen other teams have success against SC?
I touched on it above, but making their pitchers work and getting deep into the bullpen is a great way to beat them. This is a Oklahoma State group that has seen some very tough competition in the Big 12 and should be used to going to battle. On the other end, starting pitching will be key. The Gamecocks weren't facing a third-team All-American pitcher in the regionals; they will be in Thomas Hatch. This is one of the stronger arms they've faced in a while (outside of Florida's Logan Shore, who they touched up earlier this year), so they'll need to bring a measured, patient approach to the plate this weekend.
5. How do you see this regional playing out?
This is definitely the stiffest challenge the Gamecocks have faced in this short postseason. This isn't UNC Wilmington or Rhode Island - this is a very good team from a power conference. The Gamecocks certainly showed that they can put up runs in bunches (after they lost to Rhode Island on the first day of regionals, they outscored their opponents 47-10 the rest of the way). If they can keep those offensive juices flowing and can get carried by their arms, then this should go their way. Having said that, if the Cowboys can grab a win on Saturday and grab some momentum in front of what will be a raucous Founders Park crowd, that will put a great deal of pressure on the Gamecocks.
There you have it! Thanks again to Sydney Hunte and Garnet and Black Attack for taking the time to answer some questions.