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May 5, 2011

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Down to its last three games and still within reach of a .500 record, South Carolina travels to Baton Rouge for a three-game set at LSU. Friday and Saturday’s games can be seen on Cox Sports TV in select Southeastern markets (see for info), with first pitches set for 6 p.m. CDT and 3:30 p.m. CDT, resepctively. Sunday’s finale begins at 1 p.m. at Tiger Park. Live stats will be available for all games, and you can listen to the audio broadcast at for free.

Gamecocks Fighting for .500 Finish; At-Large Berth
Every team’s goal is to make it to postseason play. The Gamecocks have work left to attain that goal. It will take two wins (in three games) for South Carolina’s name to be heard in the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s room in next week. The squad was eliminated from SEC Tournament consideration after the sweep to No. 5/7 Florida.

Scouting the LSU Tigers
The Tigers stand at No. 21 in this week’s NFCA poll and hold a 35-15 record. Currently, LSU is on a nine-game winning streak, with eight of those coming on the road in SEC West play. Amazingly, the Tigers are a perfect 11-0 against their division but 5-9 against the East. Pitching leads the Tigers, as they hold a one-run advantage in ERA over their foes (2.31-3.30) Brittany Mack leads the staff with a 16-5 record and a 1.78 ERA. She’s struck out 169 batters in 149.2 innings of work. Foes hit just .199 against the Tigers’ ace. Rachele Fico has been almost as good, posting a 2.51 ERA and a 13-9 record. Shes’ fanned 153 batters in 139.2 innings. Opponents hit .216 against her. Fico has been called for 12 illegal pitches with runners aboard, and she has been susceptible to the long ball, giving up 14.

LSU’s defense has been stellar as well, posting a .973 fielding percentage and just 39 errors in 50 games. At the plate, Anissa Young is the standout, posting an OPS of 1.028 (.483 OBP + .545 SLG). Her on-base percentage is helped by an amazing 24 HBP, which is just under a third of LSU’s 79 this season. Young (9 HR), Tammy Wray (7 HR) and Ashley Langoni (4 HR) account for 20 of the Tigers’ 24 homers and are the top three Tigers in RBI. LSU does run, led by Simone Heyward with 20 stolen bases and Tiffany Shaw with 16. Alex Boulet also has 16 and Juliana Santos adds 10.

Series History Versus the Tigers
LSU owns a 31-14 advantage in the all-time series that started in 1982 and resumed when the Tigers’ program was resurrected with the SEC’s sponsorship in 1997. Lately, the Tigers have been dominating the series, taking the last seven meetings and 14 of 16. In Baton Rouge, LSU has captured 15 and lost four, sweeping the Gamecocks in a three-game set at the new Tiger Park in 2009.

Last Series vs. LSU – March 13-14, 2010
LSU swept a three-game series at Beckham Field last year, winning games 5-0, 9-0 (6) and 10-0 (6). Brittany Mack tossed a one-hitter in one of the shortened games, while Rachele Fico struck out seven in her six-inning shutout. Kirsten Shortridge had her way at the plate, posting eight hits, thre stolen bases and seven runs in 12 plate appearances, equaling a .750 on-base percentage Anissa Young had seven of LSU’s 20 RBI and hit one of two home runs. P.J. Fulmer, Laura Mendes and Hannah Milks all had two hits, with Mendes and Evan Childs both getting doubles.

Carolina in the Month of May
For games documented in the month of May since 1986, the Gamecocks are 68-61 overall, including a 26-18 mark in all May regular-season games. When broken down into SEC games in the fifth month, the record comes in at 12-13.

South Carolina vs. Ranked Opponents
In history against foes ranked in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll, South Carolina has an 91-195-1 (.319) mark. When facing SEC teams that are ranked, SC is 38-138 (.216). On April 24, 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 sixth and seventh games on television this year this weekend, with Cox Sports TV covering Friday and Saturday’s contests. This season, the Gamecocks stand at 2-2 on the small screen, winning both televised games at Arkansas three weekends ago.

A Much Better Showing in 2011
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
The Garnet and Black have a batting average that is 54 points better than last year (.270-.216), an on-base percentage 58 points improved (.345-.287) and a slugging percentage 99 points better (.387-.288).After 53 games in 2011, the Gamecocks have posted 86 more runs, 115 more hits, 13 more doubles, 10 more triples, 15 more homers, 32 more walks and 64 more stolen bases. They also have 97 less strikeouts in 183 more at bats entering the LSU series.

And the Pitching Has Picked Up, Too
The Gamecock offense is not the only thing that has improved. The team’s ERA stands more than a run and a half better than a year ago (3.21-4.97). South Carolina has tossed four more complete games and six more shutouts than the year before, and opponents are hitting 70 points less (.249-.319) against the team this season. In roughly 43 more innings, the Gamecocks have 15 more strikeouts but 13 less walks.

South Carolina Confident with Two Runs Scored
The Gamecocks own a 25-13 record when they score two runs or more in a game. That includes a 21-7 mark when posting three or more.

The Speed Proves Its Worth When Not There
South Carolina has gone 5-15 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 77 stolen bases already in 2011. That total is the third-highest in history and trails just two Gamecock teams in history: 1992 (79) and 1995 (87). The Gamecocks will steal more bases 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 Hannah Milks with 16. 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 Milks in double figures are Samie Garcia (15), Lauren Lackey (14) and Dana Hathorn (12).

The Long Ball Effective for Gamecocks
South Carolina has already hit 24 home runs on the season, surpassing the high of 21 in both 2006 and 2007 in the past six years. It has been a big help to the squad this season, as the Gamecocks are 17-5 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 20 wins when playing outside of the SEC.

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 .164 and .212, 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 .404/.459/.528 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 3.22 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 172 points better on the road than at Beckham Field, while Dana Hathorn (.300 road, .188 home) and P.J. Fulmer (.255 road, .148 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 (3.75 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 90 runs combined in the two innings. In the sixth, the squad posts a batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage stats of .310/.381/.486. The fifth has the Garnet and Black posting 47 runs with a slash line of .288/.379/.471.

South Carolina Making Defenses Work
The Gamecocks have done a great job putting balls in play this year. South Carolina has struck out 209 times in 53 games, the second-fewest number of K’s by a team in the SEC. The Gamecocks have benefited, hitting .299 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 23 games with Hathorn as a starter, with all 47 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 .439 batting average with runners in scoring position. She’s driven in nine runs in 14 chances with a runner on third and less than two outs. All of those marks lead the team. She’s also tied for the team lead with 27 RBI.

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 26-for-39 (33.3% caught stealing) in stolen base attempts against Fulmer. Versus South Carolina, teams are 28-of-42, a 33.3% 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 .458 slugging percentage and leads the team with a .359 batting average. 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 leads the Gamecocks in hits (58), runs (31) and on-base percentage (.405), while she’s second in slugging percentage (.460) and stolen bases (15). She enters the LSU weekend reaching base in the past 16 games, matching her best stretch this season and the best on the team. Since April 1, Garcia is 28-of-69 (.406) with four doubles and 10 runs scored, all tops on the team in the stretch. She posted 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, as she’s seen the lowest percentage of strikes (55.3 percent) of any regular. 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.

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 homers (5) and slugging percentage (.486) and standing third in on-base percentage (.384). She is in the top five in every batting category. A back injury suffered prior to the Alabama series cost her a 60-game consecutive starts streak, but she’s started the past 14 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.

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 leads the Gamecocks with 16 stolen bases, while her 10 bunt hits also tops 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 24 strikeouts. Add that to her three home runs, and she has posted a three true outcomes percentage of .352. 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 18 games ago and has reached base safely in 14 of them. She led Gamecocks a 4-3 win at USC Upstate on April 13 with a 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. Four players have been tried there, most of any defensive position. Combined, the players manning first are 26-for-134 (.194), the lowest batting average of any defensive position. The 21 RBI are not bad, only topped by the second basemen in the infield. And the .347 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.

Unlucky So Far
South Carolina has won 26 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 .258, ninth-best in the SEC. That includes a 6-for-32 mark with the bases loaded, which stands 11th. In all situations, South Carolina holds a .270 batting average. 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 3.83 strikeouts per seven innings is 11th. The Gamecock defense been much stronger behind the pitchers this season, posting a .964 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 26-23. 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 .744 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 (8.09 per game) and tops the league in flyouts (8.02 per game). The pitchers have added 3.83 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 3.21 ERA in all games, but in conference action, it jumps to 4.38. Audrey Broyles has been fairly consistent in and out of conference play (2.28 ERA non-SEC vs. 3.40 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 2.91 ERA and a 6-9 record, completing four games. Broyles’s biggest problem has come in the later stages of games. Her ERA rises to 3.27 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 25-for-166 (.151) mark when any at bat ends with two strikes (0-2, 1-2, etc.), including a 14-for-126 (.111) on the non-full count two-strike endings. Overall, the pitching staff has held opponents to a .198 batting average (119-for-602) in the two-strike circumstance and a .178 mark (83-for-466) 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 30 relief appearances, the most in the SEC. That total also is a new single-season record for the Gamecocks, passing Aleca Johnson’s 25 stints out of the bullpen in 2002. She’s compiled a 4.01 ERA, fanning 36 in 68 innings of work. Only 20 percent (4 of 20) 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 8-8 with a 3.21 ERA, striking out 69 batters in 100.1 innings of work. In four of her complete games, she’s posted a no-hitter, a one-hitter, a two-hitter and a three-hitter.