Gamecocks are Super!
There were several recurrent themes that presented themselves through the course of the Columbia Regional this weekend. One was the Gamecocks bats breaking out in a big way. The other was Mark Kingston being asked “Is this team back?” in many different variations with a response that reiterates that this team never left. They were just decimated by injuries.
Whatever your thoughts on that matter, it cannot be denied that the Gamecocks were definitely leaps and bounds back in the right direction compared to where they were a month and a half ago, nor can you say they did not make a huge statement by sweeping the weekend in dominant fashion, executing in all facets of the game. You also cannot deny that as much as it became a cliche, Kingston was right about the injuries.
“To God be the glory on that one. Getting all these guys healthy just in time, and I guess a 2nd shout out would be to our Athletic Trainer Cory Barton for getting all these guys healthy as well. He did a great job getting everybody ready just in time for this regional and again you could see what we are when we are close to full strength, who we are, and how good we are.“There was no loss of faith. This team knew it was good. We were enduring some pretty unprecedented things in terms of everyone having injuries. Having so many key ones and having to move some many pieces around. We just had to weather the storm. I said it a million times. It is a tough sport and a tough league. It’s a really tough league when you’re at full strength and dang near impossible when you’re not. So, we weathered the storm and here we are. We kept telling these guys all along the way to keep believing; keep staying the course. It will come back to us. I think it is good to see that it actually has happened”, said Kingston of his team’s perseverance in his remarks after their 16-7 win to punch their ticket to Super Regionals.
The Gamecocks came into this game knowing they were up against a team that was hot. Campbell blistered their way through the elimination bracket, scoring 10 unanswered runs to erase a 5-0 deficit against Central Connecticut State. They compounded that by scoring 5 more over the course of the first 2 innings earlier on Sunday against NC State, making for 15 in 5 innings. Behind a dominant 7 inning, 1 run performance from Chance Daquila, and a 2 for 5 game from Jarrod Belbin, the Camels cruised to an 11-1 win over the Wolfpack to set up a date with the Gamecocks.
The Camels picked up where they left off in the regional final, scoring 2 on the first of 2 homers from designated hitter Logan Jordan, giving them an early 2-0 lead.
But, the Gamecocks found a way to respond. In the top of the 2nd, Cole Messina got things started by reaching on the first of 4 Campbell errors on the night – a grounder to 3rd that was picked nicely deep in the hole, but the high throw pulled the 1st baseman off, allowing Messina to dive in safely under the tag. Although Messina was later erased on a fielder’s choice, the Gamecocks still took full advantage of Campbell’s miscue. Talmadge LeCroy was hit by a pitch and Gavin Casas reached on the force play that erased Messina to set up a Michael Braswell RBI single. Later on, Carolina added the tying run when Dylan Brewer grounded out to 1st to plate Casas, and they carried a 2-2 game to the bottom of the 2nd.
As has been typical this weekend for South Carolina, 1 inning on offense not only changed the game, but basically directly determined the outcome.
In the 3rd, Carolina sent 12 men to the plate, hanging a 7 spot. It all started with a 1 out single from Ethan Petry, and snowballed from there with 4 more hits consecutively to follow it, 2 of which were doubles. Will McGillis added a 2 run homer to cap the rally. When it was all said and done, South Carolina had a commanding 9-2 lead.
Campbell was not going to go quietly into the night after that though. Logan Jordan hit a 3 run shot in the bottom half of the inning that cut the deficit to just 4 runs.
The Gamecocks would go on to score in each of the next 3 innings – a single run in the 4th, a 4 spot in the 5th, and another single run in the 6th, while holding the Camels to just 2 more runs over the final 6 frames.
USC once again got some fantastic efforts on the mound. Matthew Becker got the start, and went just 3 innings, surrendering 5 earned on 6 hits with a walk and 4 strikeouts. Fifth year senior Nick Proctor came on in relief, having pitched 22 innings in 21 appearances with 9 earned runs on 19 hits over the course of the season. In a big spot against that dangerous Campbell lineup, he pitched a season-high 3 innings, allowing 2 earned on 5 hits with 3 strikeouts. While those numbers aren’t eye-popping, it was enough to save the bullpen and earn him his 5th win. Will Sanders was able to come in to finish the job with 3 innings of his own, striking out 6 with just a single hit allowed.
Kingston was quick to credit the trainers and the supernatural for the miracle of having his whole lineup back and healthy in time for this regional, but it was not without his own contributions.
Asked what they did during the “week off”, Kingston was quick to retort that the team didn’t take a week off. As a matter of fact, he gave his guys just a 2 day break between the SEC Tournament and regionals to try and get some much-needed R&R.
“Whatever the narrative is, we did not take a week off. We took about a day and a half for them to clear their heads and got back to the basics. These guys came to work”, said Kingston.
He also pointed out that the week after the sweep of Florida, they didn’t have a midweek game, which was a possible factor aside from all the injuries in the season’s hard left turn, but the 2nd time they had some time off, it was a potential jumpstarter.
“We were rolling and then the week of Auburn, we had no Tuesday game. I remember being asked if we would rather have a week off to catch our breath or keep playing. Looking back maybe took us a little bit out of rhythm. That was a negative. But this time, we got a week off and it was a God send. Coming back from Hoover, we were planning our workouts and we all put our heads together to try and get this team back on track. The guys bought in, we did some 2-a-days, and it just came together.”
It is very evident that the Gamecocks did get back to the bare bones basics this week, and it paid off in dividends.
South Carolina is a team that is expected to be a perennial super regional host/participant. That is part of the territory of this program. Kingston said it best – “As much as we all want to snap our fingers and magically have it happen every year, that’s not reality. The 2 defending national champions didn’t make our conference tournament this year. That is how hard our league is. It’s not getting any easier. It is a hard league to be really good in.”
The SEC is a brutal conference in every sport, not just baseball. We can be spoiled by success. We were. But one thing is for certain after this weekend – Gamecock baseball is fun again. They’re in a super regional for the first time since 2018, and sit just 2 wins away from a trip to Omaha – a far cry from having seen their season end in Hoover a year ago. They are back to having fun, they are back to being fun to watch, and they have certainly checked off another box on the list of goals that they set.
The fans should be happy and enjoy this, and hopefully Texas Tech can beat Florida so that they can all enjoy it some more at Founders Park.