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The third-ranked University of South Carolina baseball team got swept by Kentucky over the weekend – dropping all three games of a key early-season road series.

The sweep moved the Wildcats to 21-0 on the year (and 3-0 in SEC play) while the Gamecocks fell to 15-4 (and 0-3 in the SEC). Prior to last weekend, USC’s only loss came at the hands of arch-rival Clemson in the third game of a cross-state series.

USC jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in Friday’s game but couldn’t hold on, falling 4-3. On Saturday, it was Kentucky that jumped ahead – but the Wildcats were able to hold their lead for another 4-3 win. In the series finale on Sunday, Kentucky broke open a tie game with a three-run sixth inning to claim a 6-3 victory.

While disappointing, the ultimate measure of the sweep will be how head coach Ray Tanner’s squad – and especially his heretofore unhittable pitching staff – responds to it.

Will the sweep drain the confidence of the back-to-back national champs as they kick off what is likely to be the most challenging conference schedule in America? Or will it serve as all the motivation they need in their quest for a third straight NCAA championship?

Gamecock fans won’t have to wait long for an answer …

South Carolina plays Furman (Tuesday, 7:00 p.m./ Fluor Field) and Wofford (Wednesday, 7:00 p.m./ Carolina Stadium) this week before returning to SEC action against top-ranked Florida.

That three-game series – USC’s home conference opener – will be a rematch of last year’s College World Series final, which the Gamecocks won to capture their second consecutive national title.

Even after the sweep, South Carolina’s pitching staff has a miniscule 2.23 earned run average. Opponents are hitting just .180 against the Gamecock pitching staff Рwhich boasts 184 strikeouts to just 45 walks.