COLUMBIA – Postseason, new season, right?
South Carolina certainly need to move past the struggles of the 2022 season thus far.
Somehow, the Gamecocks (27-27, 13-17 SEC) found a way into the SEC Tournament as the No. 10 seed, facing No. 7 Florida (35-20, 15-15) in a single elimination, first-round game Tuesday (2 pm, SEC Network) at The Met in Hoover, Alabama, in a rematch of a series that ended Saturday in Gainesville.
The Gators won the series, 2-1.
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Needing to make a run to win the SEC Tournament and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, here are five key players for South Carolina that will need to play big roles:
For USC, it’s going to start at the top of the lineup. Normally, Brandt Belk would be hitting the leadoff, but after crashing into the wall at Florida, it’s likely he won’t be ready by Tuesday. His absence makes how infielder Michael Braswell performs important.
Hitting solid at .348 the last seven games, Braswell needs to score more than the one run he has provided during the stretch.
Will Sanders, the Gamecocks’ ace, threw just one inning Sunday against the Gators. That should mean he’ll start Tuesday. In his last nine starts, he’s given up at least three earned runs five times, going 5-4 in those contests. Sanders has the best stuff on South Carolina’s staff and if he can command his pitches, he could pitch the Gamecocks into the second round on Wednesday against Texas A&M.
It feels like no one has played more baseball on USC’s roster than Andrew Eyster. He’s the conscious Mr. Reliable and has come up in big spots multiple times this season and throughout his career. There’s no bigger spot and the Gamecocks will need some Eyster magic in Hoover. If he can cut down on the strikeouts – he has the second-most on the team in SEC games – the senior will be the key bat in the lineup.
Noah Hall pitched his way into the weekend starting rotation around the start of SEC play and hasn’t looked back. The junior right-hander has been stellar of late and looks to have found his strikeout pitch. The only thing is Hall hasn’t been as solid away from Founder’s Park as he’s been at home. He’ll need to sustain his emotions and if he finds his way out of a jam or two, he can dial it in.
No hitter has been hotter for South Carolina than Josiah Sightler. Since the start of May, the lefty has batted .383, with 13 RBIs and six homers in the last 12 games. Sightler has improved his average by almost 30 points and his .443 on-base percentage in league play is the best on the team. The top of the Gamecocks’ lineup has struggled with some consistency of late, but as long as Sightler can remain steady, USC will have chances to produce runs.
Cory Diaz covers the South Carolina Gamecocks for The Greenville News as part of the USA TODAY Network. Follow his work for all things Gamecocks on Twitter: @CoryDiaz_TGN. Got questions regarding South Carolina athletics? Send them to Cory Diaz at firstname.lastname@example.org.