The South Carolina Gamecocks baseball team has had a good start to the season with a 14-4 overall record and is 2-1 in SEC play. However, this weekend will be a huge test for the Gamecocks.
This weekend the Gamecocks head to Gainesville, Florida to take on the No. 2-ranked Florida Gators.
The Gators are 18-2 overall and 3-0 in SEC play after a road sweep of No. 7-ranked LSU.
The Gators are led by an outstanding pitching staff that already has three shutouts (Hudson Randall has been the starter for two of them).
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks have lost their only two road games so far this season (at Clemson and at Furman). The Gamecocks have also struggled to score runs this season and are hitting just .286 as a team for the season.
The road struggles will hurt in this series against a team that has only lost once at home this season in the Gators. The offensive struggles will hurt as well against one of the best, if not the best, pitching staffs in the country.
If the Gamecocks want to prove they belong and deserve their No. 6 ranking, then they will need to show up ready to play this weekend.
Elite teams that want to contend for titles have to find ways to win the big road games.
The Gators proved they are an elite team last weekend, sweeping LSU in Baton Rouge (the Gators' first ever sweep in Baton Rouge and the first time LSU has been swept at home since the Gamecocks did it in 2006).
Now is the time for the Gamecocks to make the same statement.
The Gamecocks do not have to sweep, but taking two out of three would make the country take notice of the Gamecocks.
So how can the Gamecocks make that happen?
The pressure rests all on the Gamecocks offense. The Gamecock pitching staff has pitched well this season, and the Florida offense has struggled to score. The Gamecocks' Sunday starter will most likely be Forrest Koumas after the struggles of Tyler Webb and Adam Westmoreland, making the rotation more solid.
The Gamecocks offense has struggled but cannot afford to be intimidated by the Gators pitching staff. The key for the Gamecocks bats is to be aggressive at the plate. The Gators have 169 strikeouts to just 30 walks all season.
The Gators pound the strike zone, so being patient will consistently put the Gamecocks behind in the count.
I also believe that coach Ray Tanner cannot keep Jackie Bradley Jr. in the leadoff role. Coach Tanner continues to tinker with the lineup to try to generate offense, but I do not like Bradley leading off.
During the week the Gamecocks have a big game against the College of Charleston, which can be a great opportunity to test a new leadoff man. I think Scott Wingo could be a good leadoff candidate. He is a senior leader who has proven good plate discipline.
The Gamecocks also have a midweek matchup against Rhode Island where the Gamecocks could give Peter Mooney or Adam Matthews second chances to try leadoff.
The Gamecocks need to get the offense going and need a big road series this weekend in Gainesville.