It wasn't long ago Beverly Smith and the South Carolina softball team were fighting for a berth in the SEC Tournament, clinging to the conference's 12th and final spot in Knoxville.
Fast forward a couple weeks, and the Gamecocks have won five of their last seven, claiming series victories over Georgia and LSU. The team moved up to 10th in the SEC standings, easily securing a spot in the field and setting up a matchup with the seventh-seeded Kentucky Wildcats at 5 p.m. Wednesday. South Carolina and Kentucky haven't squared off since March 2016, when the Wildcats pulled off a three-game sweep in Columbia.
Let's answer a few questions before the Gamecocks take the field for postseason play.
The framework of this year's South Carolina squad is mostly the same as last year's, as seniors Kaylea Snaer and Nickie Blue still star in major roles, but the Gamecocks have added key contributors, including freshman infielder Mackenzie Boesel and junior transfer catcher Alyssa VanDerveer, to bolster the lineup.
Boesel, a mainstay at the top of the lineup, led the Gamecocks with a .333 batting average and ranks second on the team with seven home runs, earning her a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team. VanDerveer hasn't enjoyed quite the same level of success as she did at Penn State but has managed a .299 average and six home runs despite missing 16 games.
The South Carolina lineup features plenty of power, with players like Snaer and Victoria Williams ranking among the SEC leaders in doubles and home runs, while Boesel ranks just outside the top 10 in slugging percentage. The Gamecocks have power throughout the lineup, starting with Snaer at the leadoff spot. The long ball has been kind to South Carolina this season, as the club is 17-7 when hitting at least one home run.
Holding on runners has been a struggle for the Gamecocks all year, as they've allowed 59 stolen bases, 15 more than any other conference team. South Carolina has only thrown out seven base stealers this season, getting the runner just 12 percent of the time. In a conference with as much speed as the SEC, the Gamecocks must do a better job of holding runners to make a run in the tournament.
What's at stake?
South Carolina entered the ESPN.com poll for the first time of the season this week, checking in at No. 23. With one of the nation's most difficult schedules, the Gamecocks figure to make the NCAA Tournament field for the fifth consecutive season, despite an 8-15 record in the SEC. However, a win would help Smith and the team breathe a little easier leading up to the bracket reveal.
If the Gamecocks knock off the Wildcats, they'll take on No. 2 Auburn Thursday. Auburn took two out of three from South Carolina at Carolina Softball Stadium just three weeks ago.
With a loss Wednesday, the Gamecocks will await their NCAA fate, which will be announced at 10 p.m. Sunday.