Gardner-Webb baseball to face Gamecocks in Shelby
It won’t be the first time this season that the Gardner-Webb baseball team will play a ranked opponent. It won’t even be the first time they played a game at Shelby’s Keeter Stadium.
But, today, they will do both as the Runnin’ Bulldogs (20-19-1) will host No. 15 South Carolina (31-10) at 6 p.m.
“We’re really looking forward to it and it has been on the schedule for over a year,” said GWU head coach Rusty Stroupe. “I know the community has been pointing to it.”
Gardner-Webb, after starting the season winning six of their first seven, have lost five of their last six, including losing three of four at Longwood over the weekend.
South Carolina, on the other hand, has won their last four, including a weekend sweep of SEC foe Kentucky this past weekend.
“We want to go and be competitive and have our kids play to win,” Stroup said. “But, there is something to be said in competing against the best. We are playing a team that has won the national championship two of the last three years.”
The last, and only time, the Runnin’ Bulldogs played a nationally ranked opponent this season was a 12-0 loss at No. 1 North Carolina on March 12. The last game GWU played at Keeter Stadium was a 8-7 loss to Wake Forest the next day.
To add to today’s story line, Stroup said GWU is going to throw a freshman in Hunter Smith against the Gamecocks. Smith has thrown just 15 1/3 innings this season but has a 2.35 ERA with eight strikeouts.
“We’re hoping he can handle it,’ “It is going to be a great experience for him because if he can handle the nerves of a situation like this, he can handle anything.”
South Carolina is 27-1 this season when leading after six innings and 22-3 on the year when out-hitting the opponent. Carolina has allowed five runs or less in 33 of 40 games played this season. The Gamecocks are 27-6 when allowing five runs or less. South Carolina is 17-7 in games decided by three runs or less.
The Gamecock’s pitching staff currently owns a 3.12 ERA in 366.0 innings pitched. Carolina has allowed 155 runs, 127 earned, on 338 hits with 101 walks to 342 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting .243 against the squad.
South Carolina is hitting .290 (396-for-1366) as a team, fourth best in the league. The Gamecocks lead the SEC with 39 homers. Carolina is fielding .974 with 40 errors for the season. South Carolina’s slugging percentage of .436 is third best in the SEC with on-base percentage of .386 fourth best in the conference also.
LB Dantzler leads the Gamecocks with a .331 batting average and 12 home runs on the season.
Former Forest City Owl pitcher Drake Thomason has made just one appearance for the Gamecocks this season. He has faced four batters, giving up four hits and three earned runs in that outing.
“They are peaking right now and that is what they do in getting ready for the playoffs,” Stroup said. “I’m sure we are going to get their best shot.”
Gardner-Webb’s Benji Jackson leads the team with a .344 batting average. In 39 games, Jackson has 43 hits in 125 at-bats with 17 of those hits being for extra bases. On the season, Jackson has 19 RBI.
Brad Collins is second on the team with a .292 batting average with 22 RBI and 18 doubles. Henry Rundio leads the Runnin’ Bulldogs with three home runs.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs are batting .256 as a team with 12 home runs and 160 RBI. Runnin’ Bulldog pitchers combine for a 3.07 ERA with 274 strikeouts.
“The big picture here is that we want to make sure we peak at the end of our season,” Stroup said. “Our conference is different because we may only have one team go to the Regionals whereas the SEC will have a few.
“We do hope that it increases the awareness of our program at Gardner-Webb. There can be a lot of pride in people knowing there is a Division I program in their backyard.”
Gardner-Webb and South Carolina sports information departments contributed to this report