COLUMBIA — Two-time defending College World Series winner South Carolina has stumbled out of the gate in the Southeastern Conference.
Coach Ray Tanner’s not sure why, but knows his champs must pull out of it quickly or risk finding themselves outside the postseason this spring.
The Gamecocks (18-7) have lost six of eight games, including both of their Southeastern Conference series to open league play at 1-5. Things don’t get easier this weekend as South Carolina opens a three-game set at Vanderbilt, which was in Omaha, Neb., alongside the Gamecocks last June.
“I think this weekend, it’s a (NCAA) Super Regional atmosphere,” Tanner said Thursday. “It’s survive. Let’s go.”
Tanner didn’t expect the Gamecocks to be in this spot. He had two of last year’s starting rotation back in Michael Roth and Colby Holmes, was moving lockdown closer Matt Price into the other weekend spot and had one of the country’s top recruiting classes to fill in for players gone from the past two CWS championships.
Instead, the Gamecocks haven’t gotten the timely hits, sure defense and solid bullpen work of recent years.
“I didn’t anticipate the hiccups necessarily, but I’m all about perspective,” Tanner said. “I never thought we’d run the table either.”
Right now, Tanner would settle for a couple of SEC victories. The Gamecocks won 17 of 20 regular-season league series the past two years, yet were swept at Kentucky two weeks ago and lost two of three to No. 1 Florida at home last weekend.
“The frustrating part in our first six conference games is we had three one-run losses and no one-run wins,” Tanner said. “That’s where we are.”
Tanner’s not ready to panic.
He remembers when his 2003 team filled with Major League Baseball first-round draft picks like catcher Landon Powell and pitcher Matt Campbell overcame a 1-5 SEC start for the second of three consecutive trips to the College World Series.
The coach also understands his young players in starting roles need time to adjust.
The Gamecocks feature as many as six newcomers in their everyday lineup, several replacing critical playmakers.
Vanderbilt’s facing nearly as big a climb as South Carolina. The Commodores (10-15) are 2-4 in the SEC.