The Gamecocks wrap up their regular season with a three-game series against last-place UT-Martin.
In previous years, the Gamecocks went into the last weekend either playing for the regular season title or a first-round OVC tournament bye. The intrigue this year comes as the Gamecocks (28-21, 10-10), the league's preseason favorites, still aren't guaranteed a spot in the tournament. They can finish anywhere from second to seventh — and out — depending on the outcome of various games.
"There's a chance we're not in," JSU coach Jim Case said. "Probably the chances are not as great we finish second or seventh, but somewhere in between.
"I don't know if 'worry' (about not making it) is the right word. There's always a concern that you're playing as good as you can possibly play. I didn't think we played as good as we had this weekend (in getting swept by Tennessee Tech). I don't know that you'd say it's a worry about making the tournament as much as it's a concern that we play as good as we can."
The Gamecocks need just one win against the Skyhawks (17-31, 6-15) to secure a bid. They can finish second — and earn a first-round bye — if they sweep the Skyhawks and Southeast Missouri and Murray State each get swept. They can get the third seed if they sweep and only SEMO gets swept. If they end up tied with Eastern Kentucky, they make the field by virtue of taking the season series between the teams.
If JSU wins only one game and finishes tied with EKU, the Gamecocks not only will knock out the Colonels in the tiebreaker, they'll edge the Tennessee Tech team, which swept them last weekend, by the slimmest of margins — a .448 winning percentage to .447.
The Gamecocks have never failed to make the OVC tournament, and until last year had played in the championship round every year.
But they enter the weekend having lost five in a row — their longest losing streak since February 2006 — and five of their past six OVC games. They haven't lost six in a row overall since 2002, Case's first season at JSU.
"We always talk about every weekend in this conference is a big weekend because you always want to get first or second and get a bye," catcher Andrew Edge said, "but this weekend is important to us, especially coming off a bad weekend."
Even though the schedule is bumped up a day, the Gamecocks will stick with their usual rotation in the series — Daniel Watts (4-4, 5.61) and Austin Lucas (6-2, 3.84) in today's doubleheader and Ben Tootle (3-3, 4.70) in Saturday's regular season finale. If the Gamecocks don't draw the first-round tournament bye, their first game in Paducah, Ky., is Wednesday. UT-Martin will counter with freshman left-hander Brendon Lozupone (2-3, 8.83) and junior right-hander Coty Green (4-8, 5.28) in the doubleheader and every available arm on Saturday.
The Gamecocks generally have had their way with UTM, leading the all-time series 44-8, but Case called the Skyhawks "pesky." Since being swept by SEMO in their league-opening series, they have found a way to win at least one game in every conference weekend.
Today: UT-Martin at JSU (DH)
noon; Saturday, 1 p.m., TV-24