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Allen Sharpe

College Sports

Gamecocks Open Regional With Win

One of the best sports weekends of the year has arrived. It is NCAA Baseball Regional Weekend. This weekend is always chock full of everything that makes postseason baseball great regardless of what level of the game you are watching. Upsets, surprises, incredible pitching performances, and the “postseason moments”.


We got all of that and then some on day one of the Columbia Regional at Founders Park.


The day started with Big South Conference Champion and heavy favorite to potentially battle with South Carolina for a spot in the Super Regionals, the Campbell Fighting Camels, getting beat 5-1 at the hands of a very good NC State. The road is going to be tougher, but with Campbell still by and large being the scariest team in this regional, they are very capable of battling out of it, although they will have to do so without their ace Cade Kuehler, who threw 105 pitches in 6 innings.


In the nightcap, South Carolina took on the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils, and unlike the last month and a half or so, the Gamecocks had a luxury tonight they have not. South Carolina had their full lineup of starters available, most notable of which being Will McGillis, who Mark Kingston opted to put in the leadoff spot as the DH.


“For the last 8 plus weeks, I kept hoping to watch him (McGillis) take BP and see no grimace on his face and see the ball coming off his bat hot. For 8 weeks, I didn’t see that. He was fighting and doing everything he could to get back. This week, you started to see the ball come off hot and you didn’t see him in pain when he was swinging. About midweek, I started thinking ‘We might be able to do this.’ Once I saw he wasn’t in pain and the ball was coming off his bat, I said we were going to put him at the top of the lineup. He’s a leader for this team, and he was a leader even during the 8 weeks he wasn’t playing. I am so happy for him and I love to see guys get rewarded like that”, said Kingston.


McGillis made it look as if he didn’t miss a beat, as he made an immediate impact, going 2 for 3 with a home run, 3 RBIs, a walk, and 2 runs scored. He was one of 4 Gamecock hitters that notched 3 RBIs on the night. Gavin Casas was a perfect 3 for 3 with a double and 3 runs scored. Michael Braswell was 2 for 6 with a double and a pair of runs scored, and Ethan Petry drew a bases-loaded walk and absolutely mashed a 438 foot homer over the bleachers in left, making for a 1 for 3 night.


All that suffices to say that the Gamecocks absolutely dominated their way to a win in this one, defeating the Blue Devils 19-1.


On the bump, Mark Kingston opted not to use Will Sanders or Jack Mahoney, instead going with James Hicks.


“The choice was James because he really took his opportunity at the SEC Tournament and ran with it. Jack (Mahoney) has been one of our most consistent guys all year too, so it was nice thinking we could have James throw the first game hoping he would duplicate what he did at the SEC Tournament against UGA and have Jack for the 2 hole. That’s exactly what we got. James really set the tone for us. His first 3 pitches were balls so we sent (Cole) Messina out there to calm him down and he settled in and was dominant. The great thing is that we were able to get him out of there at 62 pitches because of the way we were swinging the bats, which could keep him available if we have to play Monday”, said Kingston regarding his decision and the performance Hicks gave.


Hicks hit the very first batter of the game on the 4th pitch, struggling to command. After Messina came out to help settle him, he went 6 scoreless innings, striking out 6 with no walks and allowing just 1 hit.


South Carolina used just 3 other arms, one of which was Will Sanders, who struck out 2 in a scoreless frame, throwing just 10 pitches – which is an encouraging sign for the Gamecocks.


Austin Williamson and Connor McCreery worked the final 3 innings, combining to allow just 1 run on 3 hits.


Along with the luxury of having his whole lineup available, Kingston was also afforded the ability to explore lineups from throughout the season to ensure he had his best order out there.


“I did a lot of research on our best games this year. I looked back at what our lineups were when we were at our best knowing we would have our full complement of players. I tried to find what was the best combination when we played Florida, Vanderbilt, and Georgia. I saw (Will) Tippett had started games in center field against UGA and we played great there. Will (McGillis) was leading off when we were great early in the season. I tried to do some homework on what it looked and felt like when we were at our best, and tried to match it as best I could”, said Kingston.


It is evident that his studying worked in this one. Sure, you can argue that it was a step down in competition. That is not entirely accurate, being that this is the NCAA tournament and CCSU won 36 games this year. But, it was competition that South Carolina was better than, and they did what they needed to, had to, should have, etc. This win was evidence that the Gamecocks are still a very good team, and now that they are healthy at the best time, maybe it can turn into a run for them. Or 19..


The Gamecocks will take on NC State in the winners bracket game at 6:00 PM Saturday night, looking to punch their ticket to the regional final.

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