A pair of tradition-rich programs will do battle in Columbia, S.C, this weekend when South Carolina hosts Oklahoma State for the right to advance to Omaha for the College World Series.
First pitch in the best-of-three series is set for 3 p.m. ET on Saturday at Founders Park.
Here are three things to watch when South Carolina (46-16) faces Oklahoma State (39-20) in hopes of clinching a spot in the College World Series:
The unlikely contributors
Thanks to some timely hitting and clutch pitching from a few under-the-radar players, South Carolina’s season continues for another weekend. It’s not unheard of around Columbia, S.C. Postseason opportunities have elevated average, run-of-the-mill role guys into superstars before.
Tyler Johnson, a reliever by trade, picked up the decisions in South Carolina’s wins over Duke and UNC Wilmington. Against the UNCW, making just his second career start, Johnson threw a complete game with 11 strikeouts. For his 11 1/3 innings of work last weekend, the sophomore righty earned Regional MVP honors.
Backup infielder DC Arendas had a productive few days, going 7-for-12 with a pair of homers. After Jonah Bride was ejected against Rhode Island on Sunday, Arendas finished a double shy of the cycle.
Like Arendas, backup catcher Hunter Taylor found a spot on the All-Regional team. Taylor raised his average from .188 to .250, going 4-for-12 with three RBI.
Can any of these previously unsung heroes keep it up? Or will some new names emerge this weekend?
Cool off the Cowboys
Oklahoma State ran rough shot through the Clemson Regional, winning its three games by a combined score of 27-4, including two blowout victories over the host Tigers.
Regional MVP Corey Hassel capped his trip to Clemson by going 3-for-5 with a grand slam in the finale. He was one of his six Cowboys named to the All-Regional team.
Jensen Elliott and Thomas Hatch grabbed both of the pitchers’ spots on that team. Hatch was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, and entering the Super Regional, he’s 7-2 with a 2.16 ERA and 102 strikeouts over 112 1/3 innings.
Hatch was named third-team All-American, along with shortstop Donnie Walton, who leads the Cowboys in RBI (43) and on-base percentage (.446). He’s hitting .350 with 14 doubles and is second on the team with 13 stolen bases and will be a force the Gamecocks need to corral.
South Carolina star power
Gene Cone, the Gamecocks’ leadoff man, entered Regional play batting .356. After going 10-for-20 with a homer and eight RBIs, his average has jumped up to .370. Coach Chad Holbrook’s squad will need him to keep the table set for Dom Thompson-Williams and Alex Destino, who have combined to hit 17 homers and drive in 99 runs this season.
After a shaky showing in the Regional, South Carolina ace Clarke Schmidt will need to return to regular form after taking a loss to Rhode Island and struggling in relief against UNC Wilmington. His ERA inflated from 2.96 to 3.33.