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Feb. 25, 2011

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – The Gamecocks take on their first opponent on the year that made last season’s NCAA Tournament when the Elon Phoenix come to Beckham Field for a doubleheader on Saturday. First pitch of game one is scheduled for 2 p.m., with Gametracker live stats and an audio feed with play-by-play man Brad Muller provided at

South Carolina vs. the Southern Conference
South Carolina has never faced Elon, but the team has taken on seven other teams from the Southern Conference in history. Entering Saturday’s doubleheader, the Gamecocks hold a 116-13-1 mark against the league, including a 1-1 mark on the year. After facing Elon, the only school the Gamecocks will have not faced from the SoCon is Appalachian State.

Scouting Elon
The defending SoCon champion Elon return nine positions starters and all four pitchers from last year’s NCAA Tournament team. The Phoenix are 7-1 on the young season, the lone loss coming at home against Kent State. Elon’s first games away from East Field in 2011 are against the Gamecocks.

The Phoenix are led by reigning SoCon Pitcher of the Week Lauren Taylor, who is 4-0 with a 2.24 ERA. She’s thrown 25 of the Phoenix’s 51 innings, striking out 25 while walking 10. Erin O’Shea is the other starter, going 2-0 with a 3.92 ERA. Emerald Graham powers the lineup, posting four home runs and 13 RBI to go with her .435 batting average and 1.000 slugging percentage. Tomeka Watson sets the table, reaching base at a .467 clip while stealing seven bases. She has posted a hit in each of Elon’s first eight games.

Great Start to the Season
The Gamecocks started things off a little better than they ended things on the field last year. With eight wins thru 11 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 20 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).

And it’s not one person doing the work on the bases. Five different Gamecocks have tallied three stolen bases, while two others have two.

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 eight games already, but some of their specialty stats seem to point towards much better things to come. In the second-most at-bats in the SEC with runners in scoring position, the Gamecocks have hit a league-worst .226. That includes a 0-for-7 mark with the bases loaded. In all situations, South Carolina holds a .308 batting average, good for seventh in the SEC. If those numbers with runners in scoring position 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’ 5.95 strikeouts per seven innings is 10th. The coaching staff hopes that the most recent trend continues, as the squad has picked up just two errors in the last five 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 sacrifice flies and is one home run from matching last season’s total. The Garnet and Black have a batting average that is 92 points better than last year (.308-.216), an on-base percentage 86 points improved (.373-.287) and a slugging percentage 172 points better (.460-288).

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 has come back to start the last six games.

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 .421 batting average while posting a .488 on-base percentage. She’s in the top 10 in the SEC stat rankings in hits (16), 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.

Sarratt A Stunner in First Two Weeks
Freshman Julie Sarratt has been a revelation during her first two weeks in the Garnet and Black. She tossed a no-hitter in her debut against Coastal Carolina on Feb. 12, the 44th in documented history. She also tossed a shutout in her third start, shutting down Florida Gulf Coast. The rookie is 4-0 with a 0.53 ERA, which stands third in the SEC. She’s struck out 28 batters in 26.2 innings of work and limited foes to a .118 batting average.

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 seven relief appearances, the most in the SEC. She’s compiled a 0.91 ERA, fanning 13 in 15.1 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 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 fourth in the SEC with nine walks.

Lackey Legs Out Some (Recent) History
South Carolina junior Lauren Lackey has made an impact for the Gamecocks with her strong defensive play during her first two seasons as a Gamecocks. But this season, she put those legs to work at the plate. Her first career home run against Georgetown came the hard way as an inside-the-park job. It is at least the first inside-the-park home run since 2001, as none could be found in the archives from 2002-10.

Freshman Making the Most of Opportunity
Freshman Dana Hathorn has fought her way into the starting lineup and has been solid during her time since gaining the job. She drew her first start against Georgetown, and the Gamecocks have won five straight since that contest. She has done her part, hitting .389 with five runs scored and five RBI in that frame. But she’s also been a standout in the field, handling 24 chances without an error at second base.

Milks Making Waves Recently
Sophomore right fielder Hannah Milks has been a valuable member of the starting lineup this season, and lately she’s made more of an impact with her bat. She has played outstanding defense in right field, including the no-hitter-saving catch that ended the game against Coastal Carolina during the opening weekend. But in her last two games, she’s posted 3-for-4 outings to shoot back to second on the team in hitting.

Carolina in the Month of February
In the 20-plus years of starting the season in the second month of the year, Carolina is 145-67-1 (.683) during February. Last year, the Gamecocks went 8-6 during the season’s opening month.

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.