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March 29, 2011

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – After a rough weekend at Tennessee, South Carolina hosts tough non-conference foe USC Upstate in a single game on Wednesday afternoon First pitch for the contest at Beckham Field is slated for 5 p.m.

Scouting the USC Upstate Spartans
USC Upstate enters Wednesday’s contest with a 30-5 record but on a two-game losing streak after Lipscomb swept a doubleheader at Cyrill Stadium on Sunday. The three other losses came against top-five teams, including a midweek loss at No. 3 Georgia a week ago. Pitching is the Spartans’ strong suit, with the team posting a 1.44 ERA. Ace Morgan Childers, who has thrown every inning of the four games against South Carolina, holds a 1.39 ERA and a 21-3 record. She’s struck out 250 batters and walked just 29 in 140.2 innings of work. Hannah Alexander has been excellent as well, with a 9-2 record and a 1.33 ERA. She’s struck out 73 batters in 73.2 innings of work.

Series History Versus USC Upstate
The Spartans own a 3-1 advantage in the series, winning three straight dating back to last season. In Columbia, the Gamecocks are 1-2 against the other NCAA Division I school in the system.

Last Game vs. USC Upstate – Feb. 13, 2011
Despite a three-hit outing from sophomore shortstop Samie Garcia, South Carolina could not solve USC Upstate’s Morgan Childers, as the Spartans took home a 3-2 win over the Gamecocks, claiming the 2011 Palmetto State Showdown title. Garcia led the Gamecocks with those three hits while adding an RBI. Senior catcher P.J. Fulmer added an RBI while going 2-for-2 with a double. Childers went the distance, tossing 140 pitches while striking out 12 and allowing two earned runs on eight hits and two walks. Katie Zauner, the tournament’s MVP, drove in all three Spartan runs during her 2-for-4 day.

South Carolina vs. Ranked Opponents
In history against foes ranked in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll, South Carolina has an 90-187-1 (.326) mark. When facing SEC teams that are ranked, SC is 37-130 (.222). Last year, the Gamecocks went 0-18 against ranked opponents.

Carolina in the Month of March
Since 1984, the Gamecocks are 415-210-3 (.663) in the third month of the year.

Great Start to the Season
The Gamecocks have started off a little better than they ended last year. With 17 wins overall and three in Southeastern Conference action, South Carolina surpassed its win totals in both categories from 2010 before the halfway mark of this year, which the Gamecocks officially hit in the last game of the Auburn series.

Offensive Improvement Easy to See
South Carolina is not prominently displayed in the SEC’s team stat rankings, but it would be bad for one to think that the team has not progressed at the plate. Just past the halfway point in 2011, the Gamecocks have already surpassed their 2010 total in runs, triples, home runs, stolen bases and sacrifice flies. The Garnet and Black have a batting average that is 71 points better than last year (.287-.216), an on-base percentage 77 points improved (.364-.287) and a slugging percentage 124 points better (.412-.288).

South Carolina Making Defenses Work
The Gamecocks have done a great job putting balls in play this year. South Carolina stands at the bottom of the SEC standings in strikeout by its hitters, fanning just 119 times in 32 games. That’s 12 fewer K’s than the closest team. The Gamecocks have benefited, hitting .316 on balls in play.

South Carolina Confident with Two Runs Scored
The Gamecocks own a 17-9 record when they score two runs or more in a game. That includes a 15-5 mark when posting three or more.

The Speed Proves Its Worth When Not There
South Carolina has gone 2-8 in games when it has not stolen a base. When swiping two or more, the Gamecocks are 12-3.

Showing Off the Wheels
South Carolina has recorded 55 stolen bases already in 2011. That total surpasses the 2001 team as the best in a decade. 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, 1994, 1995). And it’s not one person doing the work on the bases. Six different Gamecocks have tallied four or more stolen bases.

Four of those Gamecocks have nine or more. If all four get into double figures, that would make the 2011 team the first in South Carolina’s recorded history (since 1983) to have four individuals steal 10 or more bases. Only eight times has more than one Gamecock made it to 10+ SB in a year. Sophomore Hannah Milks has already joined the double-digit steals club, most recently visited by Ashton Payne, who swiped 13 in 2007. Junior Lauren Lackey joined Milks with 11 after stealing two at Coastal Carolina on March 22. Sophomore Samie Garcia made it a trio when she stole a base at No. 11 Tennessee on March 26.

The Long Ball Effective for Gamecocks
South Carolina has already hit 15 home runs on the season, more than the high in two of the last three seasons. It has been a big help to the squad this season, as the Gamecocks are 11-3 in games in which they have hit a homer. South Carolina has won just one game in which it did not record at least one triple or one home run. A six-game drought ended at No. 11 Tennessee when Laura Mendes hit her 10th career homer in the first game of the series. Hannah Milks hit the Gamecocks’ first grand slam since 2008 on Sunday, March 27 in Knoxville.

Gamecocks Could Use a Faster Start
Maybe it takes the Gamecocks a little while to get going. Of South Carolina’s 157 runs, only 15 have come in the first inning. The initial frame is also the lowest for the Gamecocks in terms of batting average (.242), on-base percentage (.323) and slugging percentage (.323). Things improved on March 6 at the FAU Miken Classic, as South Carolina posted three first-inning runs in the two games that day. Four more runs came in the first on March 27 at No. 11 Tennessee on Hannah Milks’ grand slam.

The Gamecocks hit best in the sixth, compiling 34 runs with a batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage stats of .343/.409/.552. The fifth isn’t bad to the Garnet and Black, either, posting 31 runs with a slash line of .302/.397/.460.

Offensive Onslaughts More Prevalent than Last Three Seasons
On four occasions, South Carolina has tallied 10 or more runs in a game this season. That is one more than the total of 10-or-more run games in the 2008-10 seasons combined, a total of 143 games. The Gamecocks have also shortened four games this season, matching the total from the last three years.

Unlucky So Far
South Carolina has won 17 games already, but its of their specialty stats seem to point towards much better things to come. With runners in scoring position, the Gamecocks have hit .276, eighth-best in the SEC. That includes a 5-for-25 mark with the bases loaded, which stands last. In all situations, South Carolina holds a .287 batting average. If those numbers, especially with the bases loaded, improve, it will be a big help to the Gamecocks going forward. Two of the 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).

Hathorn Making the Most of Opportunity; Gets Award for her Work
Freshman Dana Hathorn has fought her way into the starting lineup and has been solid during her time. She drew her first start against Georgetown, and the Gamecocks have won 14 games since that contest. She has more than done her part, leading the squad with 23 RBI while standing second with a .353 batting average. And she’s been a standout in the field, handling 115 chances with just two errors at second base.

She earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors on March 7 after her play in the final week leading into conference play. Hathorn hit .421 and posted seven in the five games from March 2-6. She saw her five-game hitting and RBI streaks end in the first game at Mississippi State but rebounded to post seven RBI and tie for the team lead in hitting during the first week of SEC play.

Fulmer Limiting Foes’ Running Games
Senior P.J. Fulmer has been a good defensive catcher in the past, but this season she’s taken her throwing to a different level. Currently, teams are 12-for-21 (42.9% caught stealing) in stolen base attempts against Fulmer. Versus South Carolina, teams are 14-of-24, a 41.7% caught-stealing rate that ranks fourth in the league. Last season, Fulmer threw out 20 percent of those attempting to steal, just off of her 23 percent mark of 2009.

Childs Playing Well Since Move to Hot Corner
Junior Evan Childs has returned to the starting lineup with a vengeance. The infielder has started the last 14 games at third base, hitting .302 (16-for-53) at the spot. That includes three-consecutive three-hit games to close out the FAU Miken Classic. The Conway, S.C., native moved to the hot corner after starting 49 games at second base and 54 at shortstop over the first two-plus years of her career.

Her defense at the bag has improved greatly since starting. While she has six errors, she’s also been a part of five double plays as well.

Gamecock Defense Carrying the Load
In the SEC overall stats, the Gamecock pitching staff’s 3.96 strikeouts per seven innings is 11th. The Gamecock defense been much stronger behind the pitchers this season, posting a .959 fielding percentage, over 20 points better than last year. Also, South Carolina is second in the SEC in assists, 13 behind an Ole Miss squad that has played four more games.

When the defense is good, so are the Gamecocks. When making two or less errors, South Carolina is 17-11. If three or more errors are committed by the Garnet and Black, they are 0-4.

Good Year for Defensive Improvements
South Carolina’s defense has picked up at the right time. In the last 10 years, the Gamecocks have never posted a defensive efficiency (the inverse of batting average on balls in play) better than .741. This season, the Gamecocks currently hold a .739 defensive efficiency. Last season was the worst in the 10 years that the stat has been compiled, as the Gamecocks had an efficiency rate of just .654.

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 every game since.

Lackey Trying to Leg Out a Lot of 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 has done some damage at the plate. Lackey currently leads the Gamecock regulars with a .519 slugging percentage. If she keeps that up, she would stand with former Gamecock great and three-time All-American Tiff Tootle as a slap hitter who led her team in slugging percentage.

Earlier this season, Lackey made a fast trip around the bases with an inside-the-park home run against Georgetown, her first career round-tripper. It is the first inside-the-park home run since at least 2001, as none could be found in the archives from 2002-10.

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. While she’s cooled off a bit recently, Garcia still leads the team in hits and runs scored, also posting 10 stolen bases. Last season, Garcia won Co-Cal JC Player of the Year accolades at Cerritos College.

Let Not Westfall’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 fourth among regulars in batting average (.304) and in slugging percentage (.435).

She had a stellar opening weekend in the 2011 Palmetto State Showdown. 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 doubles per game, on-base percentage 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.

Mendes had an amazing week prior to the SEC opener, going 10-for-19 with five extra-base hits and 10 RBI in the five games. That included the amazing performance at Winthrop (3/2), where she finished a single short of the cycle. Pitches for Mendes to hit have not been there all season. She’s posted 18 walks, tops on the team and 11 more than she compiled in the 2010 season.

Milks Making Waves
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 solid defense in right field, including the no-hitter-saving catch that ended the game against Coastal Carolina during the opening weekend. But in the first game versus Michigan State and Charlotte, she posted consecutive 3-for-4 outings. She victimized the Spartans for her first career home run in the second meeting. Milks is tied for the team lead with 11 stolen bases, while she’s second on the squad with four bunt hits.

Brossart Leads Gamecocks in Three True Outcomes at the Plate
Junior first baseman Molly Brossart has provided the Gamecocks with a steady glove at first and a good eye at the plate. Her 13 walks tie for tops on the team, but she also leads the squad with 16 strikeouts. Add that to her two home runs, and she has posted a three true outcomes percentage of .387. Three true outcomes are the stats, mentioned above, where the player has nearly all the control on how the plate appearance ends. Brossart also has had three sacrifice flies, tops on the team, and three sac bunts, tied for fourth.

First Base a Question for Gamecocks
Offensive production at first base has been a low spot for the Gamecocks. Going into the Tennessee weekend, three players have been tried there, just one less than in the designated player spot. Combined, the players manning first are 12-for-75 (.160), the lowest batting average of any defensive position. The 11 RBI are not bad, besting the catchers and third basemen in the infield. Molly Brossart has gotten the majority of the time there, with Julie Sarratt and Kelley Dillon both adding eight at-bats each.

Laura Mendes manned first during the Tennessee series, going 2-for-6 with two RBI while also walking five times in the three games.