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Feb. 22, 2011

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina at Charlotte
Wed., Feb. 23
Time: 4 p.m.
Series History: SC leads 29-5, 10-2 at Charlotte
Trend: Charlotte has won three straight dating back to 2007

Great Start to the Season
The Gamecocks started things off a little better than they ended things on the field last year. With seven wins thru 10 games, South Carolina could surpass its win total from last year before starting Southeastern Conference play on March 9.

Showing Off the Wheels
South Carolina has recorded 18 stolen bases in the early going of 2011. That total is more than what the team recorded in six of the previous nine years. While a hard pace to maintain, it’s worth noting that the Gamecocks have stolen more bases than games played in just three seasons (1992, 94-95).

Gamecocks Gain Confidence from Come-From-Behind Win
The South Carolina team did something that only two current members of the team can remember: post a seventh-inning comeback to win a game. The Feb. 19 meeting against Villanova saw the Gamecocks post four runs in the seventh to take the win. The last time the Gamecocks won a game trailing after six innings was on April 9, 2008, when Laura Mendes tied the game with an RBI single and Jill Semento cemented the comeback with a grand slam at Coastal Carolina.

Unlucky So Far
South Carolina has won seven games already, but some of their specialty stats seem to point towards much better things to come. In the fourth-most at-bats in the SEC with runners in scoring position, the Gamecocks have hit a league-worst .209. That includes a 0-for-6 mark with the bases loaded. If those numbers improve, it will be a big help to the Gamecocks going forward. Two of the three highest games for a team with runners left on base in the league have been in two of the Gamecocks’ losses (11 against USC Upstate and Winthrop).

Gamecock Defense Carrying the Load
South Carolina’s defense has done most of the work this season in recording outs. In the 11-member SEC, the Gamecocks’ 5.94 strikeouts per seven innings is tenth. The coaching staff hopes that the most recent trend continues, as the squad has picked up just one error in the last four games.

Balanced Offense
South Carolina is not prominently displayed in the SEC’s individual stat rankings, but it would be bad for one to think that the team has not progressed at the plate. Less than 20 percent into the season, the Gamecocks have already surpassed their 2010 total in stolen bases and is not far away from improving on last season’s sacrifice fly and home run totals. The Garnet and Black have a batting average that is 84 points better than last year (.300-.216), an on-base percentage 82 points improved (.369-.287) and a slugging percentage 166 points better (.454-288).

Fulmer’s Ironwoman Streak Behind Dish Ends
Senior catcher P.J. Fulmer ranks as one of the toughest Gamecocks in history. Since earning the starting job during her freshman season, she’s only missed a handful of games. She even took a ball to the face during the fall, knocking out four teeth, and missed minimal time. But after making a spectacular catch in the final game of the Palmetto State Showdown against USC Upstate, the senior experienced some tightness in her back and neck. She missed the Winthrop contest on Feb. 16, breaking a streak of 89 straight starts. She came back to catch all five games in the FGCU Tournament.

Samie’s the Sparkplug up Top
Sophomore shortstop Samie Garcia, in one weekend, proved why she was a key component brought to Columbia by head coach Beverly Smith for her first season. Garcia leads the team with a .400 batting average while posting a .462 on-base percentage. She’s in the top 10 in the SEC stat rankings in hits (14), while she’s posted three stolen bases as well. She also ranks as one of two Gamecocks to have a double, triple and home run this season, along with junior leftfielder Kaitlin Westfall. Last season, Garcia won Co-Cal JC Player of the Year accolades at Cerritos College.

Borchardt Back for Another Go in the Circle
In her first year at South Carolina, April Borchardt became a savior on the pitching staff. Primarily an outfielder during her freshman season at Northwest Florida State College, Borchardt went 14-4 for the Raiders as a sophomore before coming to Columbia. Last season, Borchardt led the Gamecocks in wins and ERA while tossing 75 innings. She may be used either as a speedy outfielder or as the relief ace again this season.

In the early going, she’s excelled in the relief ace role. She’s gone 1-1 with one save in her six relief appearances, most in the SEC. She’s compiled a 0.98 ERA, fanning 12 in 14.1 innings of work.

Let Not Westall’s Great Opening Weekend Go by the Wayside
Junior leftfielder Kaitlin Westfall came on strong toward the end of 2010, ending the year as the Gamecocks’ second-best hitter in SEC play. She’s built on that, currently ranking third on the team in batting average and second among regulars in slugging percentage.

She’s kept that production up through one weekend of the 2011 season. In the SEC’s first stat rankings, she stood in the top 15 in the league in three categories, including tied for seventh with her 1.000 slugging percentage and 11th with 13 total bases. The Macon, Ga., native had a double, a triple and a home run during the first three games of the year.

Back to Bash Again
Laura Mendes has already made her way onto a handful of the Gamecocks all-time top-10 lists after three seasons in Columbia. Holding spots in hits per game, doubles per game and slugging percentage, the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., native ranks as the top returning Gamecock hitter. Her powerful left-handed bat should once again anchor the lineup. She’s led South Carolina in hits, doubles and triples in each of the last two seasons, while she also led the Gamecocks in numerous other categories as a junior.

Pitches for Mendes to hit have been hard to come by. She is tied for sixth in the SEC with eight walks.

Infusion of Winning Personalities and Talent
A total of 10 newcomers joined the South Carolina roster this fall, including five from the junior college ranks. Four of those players competed in the NJCAA World Series at their two-year schools. Both Kylie Morin and Molly Brossart helped Yavapai College to the tourney while Kaela Jackson helped Chattanooga State there in 2010. Morin and Yavapai went in 2009 as well as Jackie Slawson and Spartanburg Methodist College. The fifth player, Cal Junior College Co-Player of the Year Samie Garcia, participated in a super regional at Cerritos College during her only season at the level.

Coaches Also Know a Bit about Winning
The JUCO additions are not the only newcomers to the South Carolina softball program who know about winning. Both head coach Beverly Smith and assistant coach Janelle Breneman came to the Gamecocks from North Carolina, which has been ranked in the top 25 in each of the last five seasons, while the Tar Heels made NCAA Tournament appearances in eight years during Smith’s tenure. Calvin Beamon also knows a litle about winning, claiming crowns at all three of his amatuer stops. A high school state champion at Smoky Hill High School in Cherry Creek, Colo., Beamon won a JUCO title at the College of Southern Nevada and the College World Series during his year at Texas.

There’s Depth, A Lot of Depth
South Carolina’s softball roster this season is comprised of 23 student-athletes, possibly the largest in program history (still needs research). That depth, plus the versatility of the student-athletes, presents many options to head coach Beverly Smith this spring. Every position outside of catcher has at least three players on the depth chart, with some spots going as deep as nine.