Gamecocks shine in final games of OVC series
by Al Muskewitz
Apr 20, 2012 | 3886 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
JACKSONVILLE — A team doesn’t become a perennial contender in the Ohio Valley Conference baseball race the way Jacksonville State has without coming through in the clutch.

The Gamecocks might not sweep every three-game conference series they play, but when it comes to the getaway game, they get away pretty well.

And when that Game 3 is for the series, they’re darned near unbeatable.

Since starting OVC baseball play in 2004, the Gamecocks have the best record in the league in Game 3s of their conference series (49-21). When that game decides the series, they are a whopping 25-6.

The Gamecocks (14-21, 8-4) may have an overall losing record this season, but they have won all four of their OVC series and each of the last three have gone to the rubber game. By comparison, this weekend’s Rudy Abbott Field visitor, Murray State (18-20, 4-8), is 21-37 in OVC Game 3s during that same stretch, 10-18 when those games are for the series.

“If you’re asking if there’s any different type of philosophy we have going into Game 3, we certainly do not,” JSU coach Jim Case said Thursday.

“When it comes to conference series, we talk an awful lot about getting off on a good note and wanting to put ourselves in position to be able to win the series, that’s Game 2. Then, Game 3 becomes one of two things — having a chance to sweep or having a chance to win a series. Either one of those would be wonderful things.

“Our goal every weekend is to win (the series). That certainly doesn’t guarantee we would win the league, but I think that it keeps us in contention to win it. It puts you in a situation where if you have a really good weekend or another team has a really poor weekend you would be in position to be in great shape.”

And if you look at it, the Gamecocks’ Game 3 success runs similar to their all-time ledger in the conference. Since joining the OVC, they are a league-best 142-74 in conference games — a .657 winning percentage.

The responsibility of getting Game 3 under control falls on Hunter Rivers (2-3, 5.19) and he’ll get the call again Sunday after Aaron Elias (2-3, 3.81) and Daniel Watts (2-5, 6.23) draw the first two starts. The junior right-hander has won four of his last five decisions in Game 3 and is 2-1 in those situations this year.

Rivers has gone at least five innings in all four of his conference Game 3 starts this year and taken it into the seventh inning twice.

“It puts more pressure on Sunday to win the series if you lost one of the first two,” Rivers said, “but you can’t let it get to you. You have to pitch like it’s another game, bring your stuff and believe you can beat the other guy.

“My last start (at UT Martin) I didn’t have my best stuff, but luckily our bats have been coming around and it really helps the starter when they put up six runs.”

The Gamecocks are batting .269 as a team this season, but are hitting .391 in Game 3 of their conference series with seven of their 14 OVC homers. They’ve scored 32 runs in their last three getaway games.

Senior outfielder Kyle Bluestein has feasted on Sunday pitching, hitting an even .500 with 41 RBIs during his JSU career in conference Game 3s. He is 10 for 19 with two homers and eight RBIs this year and 27 for 43 with 28 RBIs in his last nine Game 3s.

“That’s pretty neat; I need to figure out a way to do that Friday and Saturday,” he said. “Maybe I’ll come in and make my own game up on Thursday so I feel good on Friday and Saturday.

“If I actually think about it, I guess I can realize my numbers are probably better on Sundays and it makes sense to me because usually I feel the best in the box on Sunday. … I’ve had two games to make adjustments and get my swing to feel the way I want it to feel and by the time Game 3 rolls around I feel really good at the plate.”

The Gamecocks have won their last six conference series. They haven’t been swept in a three-game series since May 2009 when Tennessee Tech and UT Martin got them on the last two weekends of the regular season. You can’t get swept if you win Game 3.

“It seems like when we have to get it done on Sunday we usually do,” Bluestein said. “I think it goes to show what type of team we have, where regardless what the situation is, we rebound in the last game and find a way to get a win.”

Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.

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