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April 28, 2011

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina closes out its home SEC schedule with a tough task, as No. 5/7 Florida comes to Beckham Field for a three-game series. Friday’s opener begins at 7 p.m. EDT, while Saturday’s contest is scheduled for a 2 p.m. first pitch on FOX Sports Florida. Sunday’s finale starts at 12 noon, with SportSouth providing TV coverage. All three games will have live audio at, while Gametracker live stats are also available. Saturday’s contest will also serve as Senior Day, where the Gamecocks will honor their four seniors in a pregame ceremony.

Scouting the Florida Gators
Fresh off a series win over fellow top-10 team Alabama, the Gators stand at 40-8 and hold the fifth spot in the latest NFCA top 25. Any conversation starts with the pitching staff, led by Stephanie Brombacher. Back after missing time with an injury, she holds a 15-1 record and has compiled a 0.98 ERA. Brombacher has fanned 100 batters and walked 22 in 100.1 innings. Hannah Rogers has been the workhorse, completing 22 games while tossing 181 innings with a 1.74 ERA. She’s 25-5, striking out 155 and walking 41. As a staff, they have held foes to a .191 batting average.

Florida can hit as well, with two batters over .400 and six over .300 in batting average. Michelle Moultrie tops the attack with her .444/.524/.594 marks and 21 stolen bases in 24 tries. Reigning National Player of the Week Kelsey Bruder holds a line of .408/.508/.830, ranking second on Florida with 16 homers and 60 RBI. Megan Bush leads in those categories with 20 and 68, respectively. Three other Gators (Aja Paculba, Brittany Schutte, and Cheyenne Coyle) have 10 or more homers and 40 or more RBI. And don’t expect the Gators to bunt. They have just 19 sacrifice bunts in 48 games, and only five players out of 14 with at bats have a successful sacrifice.

Series History Versus the Gators
Florida holds a 30-19 advantage in the series against South Carolina, winning the last 20 dating back to the 2003 SEC Tournament in Plant City, Fla. In Columbia, the Gamecocks are 8-14 against the Gators. In Florida’s last trip to Beckham Field, they swept after SC took the nation’s second-ranked team to extra innings in the first game of the three-game set.

Last Series vs. Florida – May 8-9, 2010
Florida swept South Carolina in the regular-season-ending series in Gainesville, Fla. The Gators won the three games 20-0, 6-1 and 9-0. Kelsey Bruder led Florida at the plate, going 5-for-8 with a homer and three RBI. Michelle Moultrie and Aja Paculba also has three RBI, while Megan Bush and Tiffany DeFelice both had four. DeFelice and Kelsey Horton had homers, while Francesca Enea hit two during the weekend. Lauren Lackey, Evan Childs, Hannah Milks and Kandyce Redondo all had hits for the Gamecocks.

Carolina in the Month of April
Since 1984, the Gamecocks are 355-205-1 (.634) in the fourth month of the year. In April SEC games, South Carolina is 101-112 (.474).

Gamecocks Have Tough Road to Postseason Opportunities
Every team’s goal is to make it to postseason play. The Gamecocks have lots of work to attain that goal. It will take three wins (in seven games) for South Carolina’s name to be heard in the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s room in three weeks.

The situation is much tougher to make the SEC Tournament. There are two scenarios for South Carolina. Dropping the tiebreaker to current seven-seed Auburn, South Carolina would have to win out at home against No. 5/7 Florida and at No. 21/23 LSU and have the Tigers drop their final six at home vs. No. 4 Georgia and at No. 18/15 Kentucky to make up the five-game gap. The Gamecocks are also three games in back of Mississippi State with six to play, but with the head-to-head tiebreaker going the Bulldogs’ way, it will take a combination of four more wins than MSU to overtake them. Mississippi State hosts LSU before going to Athens to end the season at No. 4 Georgia.

South Carolina vs. Ranked Opponents
In history against foes ranked in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll, South Carolina has an 91-192-1 (.322) mark. When facing SEC teams that are ranked, SC is 38-135 (.220). Last weekend, the Gamecocks snapped a 34-game losing streak against ranked teams, defeating No. 20 Kentucky in the final game of the series.

Looking to Continue Better Showing on TV
South Carolina gets its fourth and fifth games on television this year this weekend, with FOX Sports Florida covering Saturday’s game and SportSouth taking Sundays. This season, the Gamecocks stand at 2-1 on the small screen, winning both televised games at Arkansas two weekends ago.

Great Start to the Season
The Gamecocks have eclipsed their record from last year. With 25 wins overall and six 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. After 49 games in 2011, the Gamecocks have surpassed their 2010 total in every positive offensive statistic. The Garnet and Black have a batting average that is 54 points better than last year (.270-.216), an on-base percentage 61 points improved (.348-.287) and a slugging percentage 102 points better (.390-.288).

And the Pitching Has Picked Up, Too
The Gamecock offense is not the only thing that has improved. The pitching staff has stepped it up as well. The team’s ERA stands almost two runs better than a year ago (3.10-4.97). South Carolina has tossed three more complete games and six more shutouts than the year before, and opponents are hitting more than 60 points less (.246-.319) against the team this season.

South Carolina Confident with Two Runs Scored
The Gamecocks own a 24-13 record when they score two runs or more in a game. That includes a 20-7 mark when posting three or more.

No Southpaws Please!
South Carolina has not figured out lefty pitchers this year, going 1-7 against starting southpaws. The team’s batting average against lefties is just .228.

The Speed Proves Its Worth When Not There
South Carolina has gone 5-13 in games when it has not stolen a base. When swiping two or more, the Gamecocks are 16-6.

Showing Off the Wheels
South Carolina has recorded 75 stolen bases already in 2011. That total matches the 1994 team and trails just two Gamecock teams in history: 1992 (79) and 1995 (87). It should lock the Gamecocks into more steals than games played for just the fourth time in history, joining 1992, 1994 and 1995.

And it’s not one person doing the work on the bases. Seven different Gamecocks have tallied four or more stolen bases, led by Samie Garcia and Hannah Milks with 15. Four have tallied double figures in thefts, making 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. Joining Garcia and Milks in double figures are Lauren Lackey 14 and Dana Hathorn 11.

The Long Ball Effective for Gamecocks
South Carolina has already hit 23 home runs on the season, matching the high of 2006 and 2007 in the past six years. It has been a big help to the squad this season, as the Gamecocks are 16-5 in games in which they have hit a homer. South Carolina has won just three games when the team did not record at least one triple or one home run.

Offensive Onslaughts More Prevalent than Last Three Seasons
On five occasions, South Carolina has tallied 10 or more runs in a game this season. That matches the total of 10-or-more run games in the 2007-10 seasons combined, a total of 207 games. The Gamecocks have also shortened five games this season, topping the total from the last three years.

Gamecocks Need to Translate Non-Conference Play into SEC Wins
South Carolina has played much better softball all around in 2011, but the biggest difference has been in non-conference play. The Gamecocks own 19 wins when outside of SEC play.

Some better hitting from a pair of SEC veterans would help immensely. Senior Laura Mendes and junior Kaitlin Westfall have been less than themselves in league play this year, hitting .132 and .224, respectively, against SEC pitching after posting the top two averages in SEC play in 2010.

Some Gamecocks Prefer Home; Others Like Playing the Foe
Of the Gamecocks who like playing at Beckham Field, count Samie Garcia as the biggest fan. Her line of .413/.470/.547 is best on the team at home, and all three of her triples have come at Beckham. The only thing is Garcia has yet to homer at home, with all the bombs coming on the road. April Borchardt has done her best pitching in Columbia, posting a 3.11 ERA off Marion St., while she has a 6.12 ERA when throwing in the other team’s park.

A trio of players seem to like playing on the road better. Hannah Milks hits over 180 points better on the road than at Beckham Field, while Dana Hathorn (.300 road, .196 home) and P.J. Fulmer (.255 road, .152 home) have bad splits as well. Of note, only six of Hathorn’s team-high 27 RBI have come at home. Ashley Chastain has pitched better on the road (2.86 ERA) than at home (4.85 ERA).

Gamecocks Like Hitting Later in the Game
After the trip to Arkansas, it’s hard to complain about the Gamecocks’ offensive output in the first. But they sure seem to still prefer the fifth and sixth. The squad has posted 83 runs combined in the two innings. In the sixth, the squad posts a batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage stats of .314/.385/.495. The fifth has the Garnet and Black posting 43 runs with a slash line of .280/.379/.460.

South Carolina Making Defenses Work
The Gamecocks have done a great job putting balls in play this year. South Carolina has struck out 187 times in 46 games, the second-fewest number of K’s by a team in the SEC. The Gamecocks have benefited, hitting .306 on balls in play.

Hathorn Making the Most of Opportunity; Gets Award for her Work
Freshman Dana Hathorn fought her way into the starting lineup earlier this season and has been a solid contributor since seeing her name penciled in against Georgetown. The Gamecocks have won 22 games with Hathorn as a starter, with all 43 of her starts coming at second. 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.

Gamecocks Have a Clutch Weapon in Hathorn
South Carolina freshman Dana Hathorn has been outstanding in the clutch this season. The rookie has a .310 batting average with runners on base and a .462 mark with runners in scoring position. She’s driven in nine runs in 13 chances with a runner on third and less than two outs. All of those marks lead the team.

Fulmer Limiting Foes’ Running Games
Senior P.J. Fulmer has been a good defensive catcher in the past, but this season her throwing has been better. Currently, teams are 23-for-35 (34.3% caught stealing) in stolen base attempts against Fulmer. Versus South Carolina, teams are 25-of-38, a 34.2% caught-stealing rate that ranks third in the league. Last season, Fulmer threw out 20 percent of those attempting to steal, just off of her 23 percent mark of 2009.

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.

Putting things another way, since the start of her sophomore season, Fulmer has not caught 27 innings total and not seen her name on the lineup card three times.

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 ranks third among the Gamecock regulars with a .437 slugging percentage. If she retakes the lead, 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. She also ranks third on the team with 14 stolen bases.

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 has continually proved why she was a key component brought to Columbia by head coach Beverly Smith for her first season. Last year’s co-Cal JC Player of the Year at Cerritos College, Garcia still leads the Gamecocks in hits (53), runs (29), stolen bases (15) and on-base percentage (.406), while she’s second in slugging percentage (.463). She enters the Florida weekend with an eight-game hitting streak, scoring a run in five of those games. Dating back to the Alabama series, Garcia is 23-of-55 (.418) while posting the first four-hit day for a Gamecock since 2008 in the second game of the Arkansas series.

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. Entering the season among South Carolina’s top 10 in career categories like 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 anchors 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 not been there all season. She’s posted 25 walks, tops on the team and 18 more than she compiled in the 2010 season. That’s also three walks from tying for seventh on the single-season charts at South Carolina. She’s one homer from tying for 10th all-time in South Carolina history.

Milks Making Waves
Sophomore right fielder Hannah Milks has been a valuable member of the starting lineup this season. She has played solid defense in the outfield, including the no-hitter-saving catch in right that ended the game against Coastal Carolina during the opening weekend. At the plate, she posted consecutive 3-for-4 outings in the first game versus Michigan State and Charlotte. Later, she victimized the Spartans for her first career home run in the second meeting. Milks is tied for the team lead with 15 stolen bases, while her 10 bunt hits lead the squad.

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 22 walks are second on the team, but she leads the team with 23 strikeouts. Add that to her three home runs, and she has posted a three true outcomes percentage of .378. 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 four sac bunts, tied for third.

Brossart returned to the starting lineup 14 games ago and has reached base safely in all but one of them. She led Gamecocks a 4-3 win at USC Upstate on April 13 with a big three-run blast to complete the comeback.

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 25-for-122 (.205), the lowest batting average of any defensive position. The 20 RBI are not bad, only topped by the second basemen in the infield. And the .367 on-base percentage is better than all but the shortstops and outfielders. Molly Brossart has gotten the majority of the time there, with Julie Sarratt and Kelley Dillon both adding 11 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.

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 leading the team in slugging percentage (.473) and standing second in on-base percentage (.392). She is in the top five in every batting category, tying for fifth in runs scored now. A back injury suffered prior to the Alabama series cost her a 60-game consecutive starts streak, but she’s started the past 10 games in left.

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.

Unlucky So Far
South Carolina has won 25 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 .261, eighth-best in the SEC. That includes a 6-for-30 mark with the bases loaded, which stands 11th. In all situations, South Carolina holds a .270 batting average. If those numbers, especially with the bases loaded, improve, it will be a big help to the Gamecocks going forward. On four occasions the Gamecocks have left at least 11 runners on base, including 12 in the lone loss at Arkansas.

Gamecock Defense Carrying the Load
In the SEC overall stats, the Gamecock pitching staff’s 3.86 strikeouts per seven innings is 11th. The Gamecock defense been much stronger behind the pitchers this season, posting a .965 fielding percentage, over 20 points better than last year. Also, South Carolina leads the league in assists.

When the defense is good, the Gamecocks have a chance. When making two or less errors, South Carolina is 25-20. 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 .747 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.

Gamecock Pitchers Are Equal Opportunity Providers
The South Carolina pitching staff has kept the defense busy behind it. The Gamecock defense stands second the SEC in groundouts (8.23 per game) and tops the league in flyouts (7.89 per game). The pitchers have added 3.86 strikeouts per game, 11th in the SEC.

These SEC Lineups Make Things Tough on Pitchers
South Carolina’s pitching staff has good numbers overall, but when you look at SEC games only, one can see just how tough it is in the league. The Gamecock pitchers have a 3.10 ERA in all games, but in conference action, it jumps to 4.29. Audrey Broyles has been fairly consistent in and out of conference play (2.28 ERA non-SEC vs. 3.10 SEC), but the others have seen their ERA jump by at least two runs.

Broyles Showing Signs of Old Form
The start of 2010 was nothing short of amazing for now redshirt sophomore Audrey Broyles. Among the SEC leaders in strikeouts and ERA during the first month of 2010, a shoulder injury shut her down right as SEC play kicked off. Even after two ineffective starts to end the year, Broyles still managed to hold foes to a .161 batting average in 42.1 innings of work. As a freshman, Broyles won 10 games and saved three more.

This season, Broyles holds a 2.72 ERA and a 6-7 record, completing four games. Broyles’s biggest problem has come in the later stages of games. Her ERA rises to 3.50 in the fourth and 10.50 in the sixth. When she gets to the seventh, she’s fine, not giving up a run in the final inning of those four complete games. She did allow two earned runs during a relief appearance at No. 11 Tennessee on March 27.

Broyles Shuts Down Foes with Two Strikes
South Carolina pitcher Audrey Broyles become deadly to hitters when they get two strikes. Broyles holds foes to a 21-for-155 (.135) mark when any at bat ends with two strikes (0-2, 1-2, etc.), including a 13-for-120 (.108) on the non-full count two-strike endings. Overall, the pitching staff has held opponents to a .196 batting average (109-for-557) in the two-strike circumstance and a .172 mark (76-for-443) in the ABs ending in 0-2, 1-2 and 2-2 counts.

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 in the circle for the Raiders as a sophomore before coming to Columbia. Last season, Borchardt led the Gamecocks in wins and ERA while tossing 75 innings.

This year, Borchardt has taken on the relief specialist role. She’s gone 6-4 with two saves in her 27 relief appearances, the most in the SEC. She’s compiled a 4.02 ERA, fanning 33 in 62.2 innings of work. Only 22 percent (4 of 18) of her inherited runners have scored, the best rate on the staff.

A First for Gamecock Pitchers
For the first time in recorded South Carolina softball history (since 1983), five different pitchers have recorded wins for the squad, and they all have two now. Five times previously four pitchers had gotten a “W” in one season: 1995, 1999, 2005, 2006 and 2009. Of course, this is just the fourth season that five players have pitched in a game. The other years were 2005, 2009 and 2010.

Sarratt Posts Stunning First Two Weeks
Freshman Julie Sarratt was 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 South Carolina’s documented history. She also tossed a shutout in her third start, shutting down Florida Gulf Coast.

Overall, the rookie is 8-7 with a 2.89 ERA, striking out 67 batters in 94.1 innings of work. Her most recent start was a one-hit shutout of Coastal Carolina, striking out six in the April 11 contest. Over her last seven outings (32.2 innings), she’s gone 3-1, allowing six earned runs while posting 22 strikeouts against just seven walks.