In what seems like a yearly event, South Carolina will play host to their fourth consecutive regional and 15th all-time regional as the No. 1 seed of the Columbia Regional. The Gamecocks will welcome in-state foe No. 2 seed Clemson for the second straight year. South Carolina defeated the Tigers two out of three this season. No. 3 seed Liberty and No. 4 seed Saint Louis round out the regional.
Let’s take a look at each team:
1. South Carolina Gamecocks (39-18, 17-12 Southeastern Conference)
In year one under new head coach Chad Holbrook, South Carolina showed elite potential, but consistency that has been in the program the past few years wasn’t always there. However, the Gamecocks finished in fourth place in the SEC and look to make it to the College World Series for the fourth consecutive year. South Carolina won the national title in 2010 and 2011, while finishing as the runner up in 2012.
As it appears is always the case with South Carolina teams, they depend on their power in the middle of the lineup to score runs. The Gamecocks hit at a clip of .281 as a team and average 5.8 runs per game. L.B. Dantzler is the team leader in average (.332), RBI (48), home runs (15), doubles (14), runs (43), slugging percentage (.648), and on-base percentage (.445). Joey Pankake is the second leading hitter on the team with a .315 average, 38 RBI and 10 home runs.
The Gamecocks once again have a deep pitching staff that is among the best in the SEC. They hold a team ERA of 3.03 and have several guys who they feel comfortable in a starting role. Left-hander Nolan Belcher has worked his way from a guy trying to solidify his spot in the weekend rotation to the guy who started every Friday night the last seven weeks of the regular season. Belcher is 7-5 with a 2.30 ERA. Left-hander Jordan Montgomery started the year as the Gamecocks’ ace, but an injury in nonconference play had him out a few weeks. Montgomery’s outings as of late seem to have him in fine form. He is 4-1 with a 1.86 ERA. Left-hander Jack Wynkoop (7-3, 2.81 ERA) has gotten the last starting slot the past few weeks, but both right-hander Evan Beal (2-1, 4.78 ERA) and right-hander Colby Holmes (4-2, 3.86 ERA) give solid options if South Carolina finds their way into the loser’s bracket. There’s been a lot less drama at the end of the bullpen where left-hander Tyler Webb has been outstanding, racking up 16 saves and a 1.24 ERA.
2. Clemson Tigers (39-20, 18-12 ACC)
The Tigers head into this weekend’s regional losers of their last five games, but they finished the regular season in third place in the ACC Atlantic Division. It is Clemson’s 38th trip to the NCAA Tournament, and they have made the field of 64 19 times in head coach Jack Leggett’s 20 years at the helm. Last season, they lost to South Carolina in the Columbia Regional Championship.
At the plate, the Tigers are an average club, hitting .278 and plating 5.5 runs per game. They don’t have anyone hitting for a high average, but instead, Clemson has a lineup full of good hitters. They are led by Shane Kennedy and Garrett Boulware, who are hitting .317 and .310 respectively. Boulware is the biggest run producer in the lineup with 44 RBI and eight home runs, while Kennedy has 33 RBI and four home runs. In the stolen base department, Clemson has attempted 149 stolen bases and have been successful 110 times.
The strength of this Clemson team comes from the pitching staff, which holds a 3.17 team ERA. Right-hander Daniel Gossett is the ace for the Tigers with a 9-4 record and 2.53 ERA. Left-hander Matthew Crownover is another good arm in the starting rotation, as he is 7-2 with a 2.05 ERA in 13 starts. Right-hander Clate Schmidt (3-4, 5.27 ERA), right-hander Scott Firth (6-5, 3.23 ERA), and left-hander Zack Erwin (5-1, 3.30 ERA) have all proven to be solid options in starting role, so Clemson has some options as they get deeper into the regional. Firth has also recorded four saves on the year, but right-hander Matt Campbell is the leader in that category with seven to go a long with his 4.82 ERA.
3. Liberty Flames (34-27, 13-11 Big South)
Liberty is making their fourth NCAA Regional appearance and first since 2000 after winning the Big South conference tournament. The Flames have won seven of their past eight contests. They are 1-6 all-time in regionals and are 6-8 all-time against South Carolina, Clemson and Saint Louis. Liberty leads the all-time series with Clemson 3-2.
Offensively, it’s been a struggle for the Flames, who average just five runs per game and hit .266 as a club. Bryan Aanderud leads the team in average (.321), hits (76) and on-base percentage (.396), but Danny Grauer is the top RBI man with 41. Grauer also has seven home runs on the year. Liberty is efficient on the base paths, stealing 83 of 105 attempted stolen bases, and Ryan Cordell is the leader in that category, as he is 26-for-30 on stolen bases this year.
The Flames are solid on the mound with a team ERA of 4.06, and they have four viable options to start, which gives them needed depth to win a regional. Righ-hander Josh Richardson has been the go-to-guy as of late in the rotation, and rightfully so. Richardson is just 3-4 on the year, but he holds a 2.45 ERA. Right-handers Carson Herndon (3-5, 2.73 ERA), Brooks Roy (7-5, 3.39 ERA), and Trey Lambert (7-3, 3.76 ERA) are also good arms Liberty can throw this weekend. At the back end of the bullpen, the Flames will turn to two-way player Ashton Perritt, who has been outstanding in his closer’s role. Perritt, a right-hander, has totaled nine saves this season to go with a 3-1 record and 1.35 ERA.
4. Saint Louis Billikens (41-19, 17-7 Atlantic 10)
The Billikens claimed a share of the regular season Atlantic 10 title before winning the conference tournament to earn their sixth NCAA Tournament bid in school history. They won the conference tournament by winning five consecutive games after dropping the opening game. Saint Louis enters the weekend winners of 10 of their past 12 games.
Saint Louis is among the nation’s best at the plate, ranking 19th in the country with a team batting average of .307. They also average 6.3 runs per game. All six of their players with over 200 at-bats are hitting over .300 on the year. Mike Vigliarolo is the team leader in average (.347), hits (86) and doubles (19), while Alex Kelly, who is hitting .340, has a team-high 60 RBI, 11 home runs, 34 walks, .546 slugging percentage and .427 on-base percentage.
The Billikens also have a solid pitching staff, which boasts a 3.58 team ERA. Saint Louis is led on the mound by their three starting right-handed pitchers, Alex Alemann, Clay Smith and Nick Bates. Alemann is 6-6 with a 3.36 ERA. Smith, who is 8-2 with a 3.76 ERA, has a team-leading 73 strikeouts to just 16 walks on the year. Bates rounds out the starting rotation with an 8-3 record and 4.05 ERA. Right-hander Marco Mejia, who is 3-2 with a 2.81 ERA, leads Saint Louis with six saves, but right-hander Matt Eckelman has also recorded four saves of his own to go along with his terrific 6-1 record and 1.79 ERA.
Five Players To Watch
LHP Jordan Montgomery – South Carolina
Although he is sophomore, Jordan Montgomery knows what this time of the year is all about. Last season, he finished up the year with an eight inning, no run, three hit performance in a 2-0 win over Arkansas in the College World Series. He missed time this year with an injury, but he has given up just four runs in his last 21.2 innings of work. He could be one to keep an eye on.
SS Joey Pankake – South Carolina
South Carolina hasn’t scored a ton of runs this year, so the bat of Joey Pankake is going to be big for the Gamecocks’ attempt at another run to Omaha. Pankake is hitting .315 this year with 38 RBI and 10 home runs. If he can have a big weekend, South Carolina has to like their chances.
RHP Daniel Gossett – Clemson
Clemson isn’t going to win games with their offense, so the Tigers really need Daniel Gossett to be on top of his game in what could be a potential matchup against South Carolina. Gossett has been good all year, posting a 9-4 record and 2.53 ERA with 89 strikeouts to 33 walks. Opponents are hitting just .212 off the right-hander.
3B Shane Kennedy – Clemson
In order to get revenge on their in-state rival and walk away with the regional championship, Clemson needs production from their offense, and it needs to come from Shane Kennedy. The third baseman is hitting .317 and has 33 RBI on the year, but he needs a special weekend to help the Tigers advance. Kennedy can also be a force on the base paths, as he has stolen 22 of 27 bases this year.
OF/RHP Ashton Perritt – Liberty
Two-way players are always fun to watch, and Liberty’s Ashton Perritt is no exception. Perritt has been phenomenal all season long in the closer’s role, tallying nine saves and a 1.35 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .177 off him. He’s also pretty good with the bat, hitting .338 with six home runs and 17 RBI in 157 at-bats.
Friday, May 31
Game 1: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Liberty – 1 p.m. – ESPN3.com
Game 2: No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Saint Louis – 7 p.m. – ESPN2/ESPN3.com
Saturday, June 1
Game 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2 – 2 p.m. – ESPNU/ESPN3.com
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2 – 8 p.m. – ESPNU/ESPN3.com
Sunday, June 2
Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4 – 1 p.m. – ESPNU/ESPN3.com
Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 4 – 7 p.m. – ESPNU/ESPN3.com
Monday, June 3
Game 7 (If Necessary): Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6 – 7 p.m. – ESPNU/ESPN3.com
***All Times Eastern***
No. 2 seed Clemson advances to a Super Regional over No. 1 seed South Carolina.
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