The South Carolina softball team carried momentum from its weekend sweep of No. 23 Texas A&M into its midweek doubleheader against Charleston Southern on Wednesday afternoon.
A combination of strong pitching performances in the first game and an early offensive outburst in the second helped lead the Gamecocks to two wins over the Buccaneers.
South Carolina earned a 5-0 victory in game one with quality pitching in the circle and a late offensive offensive surge.
Three Gamecock pitchers — fifth-year Rachel Vaughan, senior Bailey Betenbaugh and freshman Jori Heard — combined to throw a seven-inning shutout. They held Charleston Southern's offense to a .130 batting average and allowed just three hits, all of which came in the first three innings, and one walk.
Betenbaugh was especially effective, throwing three perfect innings and striking out three batters.
"I thought it was great that we could get in some work midweek," head coach Beverly Smith said. "I was proud of the pitchers. I thought they did a nice job attacking the zone and holding their offense down for us."
On offense, South Carolina's bats struggled in the game's early innings. Heading into the fifth frame, the Gamecocks were 1-12 (.083), with the team's only hit up to that point coming on a double by sophomore infielder Brooke Blankenship in the second inning.
South Carolina's situational hitting through four innings was barely any better. The Gamecocks were 1-6 (.167) with runners on base, 0-3 (.000) with runners in scoring position and 0-3 (.000) with two outs.
Though the fifth inning saw South Carolina register just one hit, it gave the team the offensive momentum it needed to see the rest of the game through. Rather than putting the ball in play consistently, the Gamecocks relied on smart base running and took advantage of Buccaneer errors to produce a very productive inning.
After sophomore outfielder Marissa Gonzalez reached base on a walk to open the fifth inning, she would advance to third base on a fielder's choice and a throwing error by Charleston Southern's catcher. Gonzalez would later score on an aggressive base-running play, sliding into home plate after a "safety squeeze" bunt from fifth-year catcher and infielder Jordan Fabian.
Movement on the base paths directly led to two more runs later in the inning. Fabian and freshman outfielder Kyye Ricks successfully executed a double steal, which allowed Fabian to score and Ricks to advance to second base. One play later, Ricks stoled third base and reached home plate on another throwing error by the catcher.
Smith said aggression on the base paths is something that the team has practiced throughout the season.
"(Assistant coach Josh Bloomer) has really implemented in his offensive philosophy that we're gonna put pressure on the defense and force them to throw us out, so I think our team has done a really good job at the details of baserunning and being aggressive," Smith said.
After holding Charleston Southern scoreless in game one, South Carolina flexed its offensive muscles in game two of the afternoon with an 11-2 victory.
“Midweeks can be a grind at times, so I was glad our team came out and handled business today,” Smith said.
While South Carolina's hitters went a combined 3-19 (.158) in the first game of the doubleheader, they exploded in the nightcap, going 7-18 (.389) in the five-inning run-rule win.
Junior catcher and utility player Jen Cummings was the source of much of that production, as she went 2-2 with three RBIs and one walk in the game.
“I thought she was outstanding, some big RBIs for us. She's played some right field, she's caught a little bit,” Smith said. “I think for us having her come and be a left-handed stick for us, she's done a great job.”
Much like in the first game, the Gamecocks took advantage of mistakes made by the Buccaneers to add to its lead. In the first inning, Charleston Southern's sophomore pitcher Maggie Carpenter struggled with control in the circle, as she walked the first six batters she faced, bringing in three South Carolina runs. Carpenter would be pulled at that point and was credited for allowing six runs without recording an out.
Following the aggressive base running that highlighted the Gamecocks' big inning earlier in the afternoon, Blankenship pushed the issue on the bases in game two. She scored two runs in the game, and her movement on the base paths helped put her in scoring positions.
South Carolina put in another impressive pitching performance in the second win, showcasing the team's depth the team in the pitching circle. Junior pitcher Leah Powell started for the Gamecocks, striking out one batter and allowing one run on two hits in her three innings.
Senior pitcher Karsen Ochs came in relief of Powell and finished the game for South Carolina, allowing three hits and one run with two strikeouts in two innings.
With two more victories in hand, the Gamecocks (32-12, 7-8 SEC) will look to continue the hot streak on the road in a three-game series against Georgia. Friday's and Sunday's games will be streamed on SEC Network +, while Saturday's contest will air on the SEC Network.
Smith said the team is "going in very confident” as it faces the final three series of SEC play for the 2023 regular season.