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 COUNTDOWN TO KICK-OFF "2019" GAMECOCK FOOTBALL

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  1. THE DAILY CROW | Chris previews the Gamecocks weekend series against Utah Valley February 21, 2019 What does South Carolina need to work on before next weekend’s rivalry series? Chris previews the Gamecocks weekend series against Utah Valley.
  2. Gamecock Game vs. Presbyterian Cancelled Due to Weather 2/20/2019 | Baseball COLUMBIA - The University of South Carolina baseball team's contest against Presbyterian, set for this afternoon (Feb. 20) at 4 p.m., has been canceled due to inclement weather. No make-up date has been set. Carolina hosts Utah Valley this Friday, Feb. 22 at 4 p.m. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network Plus.
  3. Gamecock baseball rallies from 6-0 deficit to top Winthrop in chilly temps February 19, 2019 THE STATE On a chilly, windy day at Founders Park on Tuesday, things went sideways for South Carolina baseball in a hurry. Then, inning by inning, the Gamecocks clawed their way back against Winthrop. By the end of the night, USC had scrapped all the way back to an 8-6 win in its first midweek game of 2019. Sophomore pitcher T.J. Shook, making his first career start for the Gamecocks, ran into trouble for the start. After a quick leadoff walk in the top of the first inning, he gave up a pair of doubles poked down the left and right field lines to score two runs. The Eagles got a third when junior catcher Luke Berryhill couldn’t corral a wild pitch, the runner on second took off and Berryhill’s throw skipped into left field. Winthrop pushed its lead even further in the second inning. After a leadoff double to center field, pitching coach Skylar Meade pulled Shook in favor of Cam Tringali. Against the very next batter, however, Trinagli fielded a sacrifice bunt and threw the ball into right field, allowing the runner to score. Two batters later, another wild pitch allowed another run to score. The Eagles’ last run of the day came in the third against Trinagli, as the leadoff batter singled, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and raced home on another single. Carolina’s rally started in the bottom half of that inning. After going hitless in the first two frames, USC cracked the scoreboard after junior right fielder Andrew Eyster singled through the left side of the infield. While he was retired on a fielder’s choice, sophomore second baseman Noah Campbell walked with two outs, freshman designated hitter Quinntin Perez was hit by a pitch and senior center fielder TJ Hopkins walked, driving in a run. The Gamecocks added one more in the fourth after senior third baseman Jacob Olson reached on an infield single and senior first baseman Chris Cullen and freshman left fielder Brady Allen drew back-to-back walks to load the bases. With two outs, Campbell tapped a soft grounder to the shortstop that was muffed, scoring a run. Two more runs crossed the plate in the fifth as Hopkins beat out an infield single and scored on a double down the left-field line from Berryhill. Two grounds balls advanced Berryhill around the bases and home. While the Gamecocks’ offense was chipping away, sophomore Parker Coyne, who came on in relief of Tringali to start the fourth inning, kept the Eagles in check by throwing three one-hit innings and striking out six. The only trouble Coyne faced on the day came in the top of the sixth, when a leadoff bloop double floated in between three Gamecock defenders, then a passed ball advanced the runner to third. Coyne responded with a pair of strikeouts and a flyout to escape. In the bottom half of the frame, the Gamecocks stormed into the lead with a furious two-out rally. Campbell singled on a grounder to left field, Perez reached after his ground ball squirted between the legs of the second baseman, Hopkins doubled to left, scoring one, and Berryhill singled through the left side of the infield, scoring two more. The Gamecocks added an insurance run in the eighth after Campbell doubled and scored when the Winthrop shortstop threw away a ground ball at first, and junior Sawyer Bridges completed an impressive seven-out save to slam the door. Star of the game: TJ Hopkins put together a great game, going 2-for-3 at the plate with a double, two walks, two stolen bases, two runs and two RBIs. Stat of the game: Six of South Carolina’s eight runs were scored with two outs. With two outs, the Gamecocks were 3-for-11 at the plate. Play of the game: After giving up a leadoff double to start the eighth inning, Sawyer Bridges induced a soft ground ball back to the mound. With the runner on second trying to advance, Bridges fired a strike to third base to get the crucial out.
  4. Gamecocks Score Eight Unanswered in Win over Winthrop With Videos, Gallery, Stats & More The Gamecocks fell behind 6-0 after three, but battled back for its third consecutive win. COLUMBIA – Trailing 6-0 after three innings, the University of South Carolina baseball team rallied for eight consecutive runs in an 8-6 win over Winthrop Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 19) at Founders Park. South Carolina moves to 3-1 while Winthrop falls to 1-3. (MORE)
  5. THE DAILY CROW | Gamecocks baseball wins opening weekend series against Liberty February 18, 2019 Chris breaks down South Carolina’s weekend series against the Liberty Flames.
  6. 7 takeaways from South Carolina baseball’s first series of the season February 18, 2019 THE STATE With a dramatic walk-off wild pitch win on Sunday, South Carolina baseball secured its first series win of 2019, taking two of three games against Liberty at Founders Park. With two midweek games coming up and a long season stretching out ahead for the Gamecocks, here are some early takeaways for USC — good, bad and in-between. POSITIVES Brett Kerry: The freshman right-hander was flat-out terrific for the Gamecocks this weekend, pitching three perfect innings in relief with five strikeouts. What made the performance even more exciting for USC fans was how unheralded he was in fall ball. As it turns out, Kerry had a meeting with his coaches after fall practices and came back this preseason a changed pitcher, coach Mark Kingston said. “They just sat me down and said, ‘Obviously, something needs to change,’ ” Kerry said. “And I think it was more mental. I just had to sit down with myself and be like, ‘I can’t be scared to go out there, and if I get hit, if I walk people, it is what it is, but I have to go out there and compete every time.’ ” Reid Morgan: Morgan had started just one game across a year in JUCO ball and a year at Oklahoma State, but he was extremely effective against Liberty, going a team-high six innings and allowing just one earned run. After coming to South Carolina expecting to be a bullpen arm, Morgan threw like a Friday night starter for the Gamecocks, but he said afterward he actually likes closing the weekend. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, it’s your Sunday spot.’ But more than likely, your Sunday spot’s your biggest spot,” Morgan said. “You’re either looking for a sweep or looking to win a series or just trying to win, so it was nice to see I was named to the Sunday role.” Quinntin Perez: Throughout the fall and into the preseason, not much was said about freshman infielder Quinntin Perez, who seemed likely to become a second or third option at several positions and only seem limited playing time. But Perez got plenty of opportunities in his first weekend and did well with them. After pinch-hitting Friday and drawing a walk, he started at DH on Saturday and went 2-for-4 at the plate with a pair of RBIs and a run scored. That performance earned him another start Sunday, and while he didn’t manage a hit, he did reach base after being hit by a pitch and should have had a bunt single had he not fallen running to first. And of course, he was at bat when the final, fateful wild pitch was thrown. NEGATIVES Defense: Before the series even began, Kingston said the defense would take time to develop and match last year’s squad, which tied the program record for fielding percentage. Sure enough, the gloves were far from perfect against the Flames, with four errors and a number of other sloppy plays. “Some of our defensive areas need to be shored up,” Kingston said. Free bases: Related to the point above, Kingston has repeatedly stressed the importance of limiting miscues that give opponents’ free bases. That haunted the Gamecocks on Friday, as the pitchers had four wild pitches, including one that let in the game-winning run. And it only got mildly better over the rest of the series — USC’s pitchers finished with eight wild pitches, two hit batters, one passed ball and one balk on the weekend. That’s a lot of free bases. Noah Campbell: The preseason All-American had a dreadful start at the plate after tearing up the Cape Cod League and fall ball for USC. He was 0-for-13 to begin the year, before finally connecting for a single in his final at-bat of Game 3. He struck out six times and looked somewhat shaky at second base as well. Mitigating all that is the improvement Campbell did show from start to finish in the series — he struck five times in Game 1, then walked, scored a run and only struck out once in Game 2 before collecting a hit and an RBI in Game 3 with no strikeouts. Still, not the first series Campbell or the fans were hoping for. MIXED Midweek starters: Because Carolina’s starters didn’t go very deep into the first two games of the series, Kingston and pitching coach Skylar Meade were forced to use all but two of the pitchers on their staff. Where that leaves the Gamecocks for their midweek starters is unclear, with Kingston seemingly keeping all options on the table. “We’ll look at everything, we’ll see from a pitch count standpoint, see who’s available,” Kingston said. “Tuesdays and Wednesdays this year might be a lot of different guys. You see when we bring our bullpen guys in for one or two innings at a time, they all seem really good in that role, so we’re going to decide what the best way to try to have the best success on that Tuesday night is.” SCHEDULE South Carolina hosts Winthrop on Tuesday in a midweek contest at Founders Park. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m., and the game will be streamed on SEC Network Plus. The forecast calls for rain in the evening. The Gamecocks are scheduled to host Presbyterian at 4 p.m. Wednesday and then host a weekend series against Utah Valley at 4 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
  7. WATCH: Gamecocks picked up a 3-2 victory on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied 2-2:
  8. FeatheredCock

    Gamecock Baseball Notebook

    Gamecock Baseball Notebook The Gamecocks went 2-1 in their first weekend of the 2019 season. Story Links Feb. 17, 2019 COLUMBIA - The University of South Carolina baseball team opened the 2019 campaign with a series win over VMI, taking the final two contests by 13-7 and 3-2 scores, the latter on a walk-off wild pitch. (MORE)
  9. Gamecocks Clinch Series Win Over Liberty with Walk-Off Wild Pitch With Videos. Gallery, Stats & More Luke Berryhill scored on a wild pitch to give the Gamecocks a 2-1 weekend. COLUMBIA – The University of South Carolina baseball team gave up two first-inning runs, but battled back to tie the game in the middle frames, then walk-off Liberty, 3-2, on a wild pitch with no one out in the ninth, claiming the series win Sunday afternoon (Feb. 17) at Founders Park. (MORE)
  10. South Carolina takes series win over Liberty with walk-off wild pitch February 17, 2019 Nothing was easy for South Carolina baseball in its first series of the season against Liberty. All three games on the weekend went back and forth and deep into the ballgame before being decided. Sunday’s game was the toughest, as the Gamecocks gutted out a series win, winning 3-2 with a walk-off wild pitch. After producing just four hits and stranding four runners throughout the first eight innings, USC (2-1) got the winning run in the ninth without recording an out — junior catcher Luke Berryhill led off with a walk, advanced to third on a single by senior third baseman Jacob Olson. With freshman designated hitter Quinntin Perez at the plate, the very first pitch scooted past the Flames catcher, allowing Berryhill to score with ease. In the top of the first inning, junior college transfer Reid Morgan ran into some two-out trouble, in part due to his defense. After a sharp line drive single glanced off the glove of Olson, Liberty scored when freshman left fielder Brady Allen over-ran a ball that hit the wall, leading to a double. The next Flames batter produced a soft grounder to third, but Olson threw the ball over first baseman Josiah Sightler’s head, allowing another run to score. After getting no-hit through the first three innings, the Gamecocks’ batters finally cracked the scoreboard in the top of the fourth when senior center fielder TJ Hopkins blasted a long shot that stayed just fair down the left field line for a solo home run. The Gamecocks then tied the game in the bottom of the fifth after junior right fielder Andrew Eyster singled, junior shortstop Nick Neville doubled into the left-center field gap and sophomore second baseman Noah Campbell grounded out to second, plating Eyster. Morgan, meanwhile, posted Carolina’s best starting pitching performance of the weekend, throwing five shutout innings after that first frame. The biggest jam he encountered came in the sixth inning, when he allowed back-to-back one-out singles, causing the first activity in the Gamecock bullpen. But he worked his way out of it with a strikeout and a soft ground ball, finished the day with six innings, one earned run, six hits, three strikeouts and no walks. After him, USC’s bullpen once again put together a shutdown performance after coming up big in Saturday’s 13-7 win. Liberty managed to hit several balls hard, but all at defenders, and three relievers combined for three no-hit innings. However, the Gamecock offense scuffled after the fifth inning, producing just one hit from the sixth to the eighth inning, setting up the ninth-inning heroics. NEXT South Carolina hosts Winthrop on Tuesday in a midweek contest at Founders Park. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m., and the game will be streamed on SEC Network Plus. The forecast calls for rain in the evening.
  11. Homers provide the difference as South Carolina slugs its way to first win of 2019 February 16, 2019 It was by no means pretty, but South Carolina baseball has its first win of the year after taking down Liberty, 13-7, at Founders Park on Saturday. After a gut-wrenching loss in extra innings on Opening Day, the Gamecocks (1-1) seemed to hit the field re-energized and re-focused from the get-go. Freshman starting pitcher Dylan Harley breezed through a perfect first inning with two strikeouts, and he immediately received support from his offense in the form of a five-run bottom of the first. After striking out five times Friday, sophomore second baseman Noah Campbell worked on an opening walk. Freshman Brady Allen followed with a five-pitch walk of his own, starting a stretch of 12 consecutive balls from Liberty starter Mason Meyer that walked in a run. Meyer finally retired a Gamecock by striking out senior third baseman Jacob Olson, but he then promptly gave up an RBI single to freshman DH Quinntin Perez and RBI walk to junior right fielder Andrew Eyster. After that, Liberty went to their bullpen, but sophomore first baseman Jordan Holladay and junior shortstop Nick Neville each got RBIs off a sac fly and single, respectively, to put Meyer’s final line at 1/3 of an inning with five runs, two hits, five walks and 34 pitches, only 10 for strikes. The Gamecocks added two more runs in the second after Allen led off with a walk and senior center fielder T.J. Hopkins tattooed a ball into the right-center field gap for a triple. Hopkins came around to score on a two-out ground ball single from Perez. Those two runs saved USC’s lead — Harley completely imploded in the top of the third inning. With two outs and a man on first, he surrendered a single, than four consecutive walks with a balk thrown in, then another single to give up five runs. He was pulled with two outs still on the board. Between the two teams, the first 12 runs were scored with just six hits. Sophomore T.J. Shook, who replaced Harley, got out of the inning with no more damage, but with two outs in the fourth inning, he gave up back-to-back doubles to make it a one-run game. Twice after that, Carolina got breathing room in the form of two-run home runs from Olson, who jacked two moonshots over the left field fence. In between those two long balls, Liberty managed an unearned run with two singles, a muffed double play and a wild pitch. Beyond that, the Gamecocks’ bullpen shut down the Flames. Freshman Cam Tringali threw 2 1/3 scoreless and freshman Daniel Lloyd worked his way out of a jam in the eighth inning to preserve the lead, and senior catcher Luke Berryhill added another insurance run with a solo homer. Freshman Brett Kerry closed out the game with a perfect ninth inning. Star of the game: Since the beginning of 2018, Jacob Olson has had 59 hits for the Gamecocks. Sixty-four percent of them have gone for extra bases, including all four so far in 2019. He had a team-high four RBIs Saturday and scored three runs. with a walk. NEXT South Carolina and Liberty are set to finish off their series Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Founders Park. The game will be streamed online on SEC Network Plus. The weather forecast does call for intermittent rain throughout the day though.
  12. South Carolina baseball falls in extra innings against Liberty on Opening Day February 15, 2019 Once, twice, three times South Carolina baseball took the lead over Liberty at Founders Park on Friday. Three times, the Flames came back to tie things. Eventually, Liberty made the Gamecocks pay for those second chances, defeating USC 6-5 in extra innings on Opening Day. Liberty scored the winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning without a base hit — senior Tyler Galazin reached out a fielding error by pitcher John Gilreath, advanced to second on a passed ball, made it to third on a groundout and raced home on a wild pitch. Carolina (0-1), meanwhile, was left ruing all the leads it gave up and a strong offensive day from its newcomers — USC trotted out a lineup with five players who weren’t in Columbia a year ago, and those players produced got the majority of its hits and RBIs on the day. In the top of the second inning, junior left fielder Luke Berryhill led off with a high fly ball that carried and hit off the top of the wall of the right field bullpen, tripling in the process. Senior third baseman Jacob Olson followed with a dribbler to the mound, but the first baseman dropped the throw to let him reach. Then freshman designated hitter Brady Allen smashed a 3-1 offering over the left field wall in his first collegiate at-bat for a three-run home run. On the mound, new Carolina ace Carmen Mlodzinski, a sophomore right-hander, struggled with location all day, and Liberty used several soft hits to get him in trouble every inning — runners reached scoring position every frame from the first through the fourth, and he was pulled with one out in the fifth after a four-pitch walk with 97 pitches on the evening. For the most part, however, Mlodzinski managed to escape the jams. The one time Liberty made him pay came in the bottom of the third inning. After a walk and a single put runners on first and second to start, Mlodzinki battled back to get two outs, but his luck ran out when Flames sophomore Will Wagner scrapped out an infield single to deep shortstop to load the bases, then junior Cam Locklear smoked a double down the left field line to clear them. The Gamecocks retook the lead in the bottom of the fifth after senior catcher Chris Cullen roped a double to the left field corner to lead things off, then junior right fielder Andrew Eyster skied a fly ball into shallow left field with two outs that dropped in between three defenders. By the time the ball fell, Cullen was crossing home plate after taking off with the pitch. Liberty tied things up again in the top of the eighth off junior Hayden Lehman. Pinch hitter Brady Heid led off with a walk and advanced to second and then third on wild pitches. With one out, Jaylen Guy blooped a soft single over the drawn-in infield down the left field line to score Heid. In the bottom half of the inning, USC went right back on top when senior center fielder TJ Hopkins stepped to the plate and delivered a mammoth blast over the straight-away center field fence. The home run, which traveled more than 380 feet, was Hopkins’ first hit on the year after playing with a fractured vertebrae throughout last season. With two outs in the top of the ninth, however, Liberty once again rallied, as Wagner took a 1-1 offering from reliever Sawyer Bridges and deposited it far beyond the right field wall to make it 5-5. Stat of the game: Carolina’s pitching was far from bad Friday, but Gamecock hurlers hurt themselves with four wild pitches, a passed ball and two stolen bases allowed without much trouble for Liberty. NEXT South Carolina and Liberty return for the second game in their three-contest set on Saturday at 3 p.m. Freshman left-hander Dylan Harley will pitch for USC, while Liberty will throw sophomore righty Mason Meyer.
  13. FeatheredCock

    107.5 Baseball Takeover Day

    Hats off to all the guys for just a wonderful day of interviews of many Gamecock great Baseball players today. Started listening at 8 a.m. and still going strong. Bobby Richardson up next.
  14. 2019 Carolina Baseball Preview + Blake Cooper, Mark Kingston February 14, 2019 Baseball season is FINALLY here. Chris and Thom preview the Gamecocks upcoming season and what South Carolina must do to make it back to Omaha. The guys talk hitting, pitching, give their projected lineups, biggest questions to be answered and predictions for 2019. Also, former Gamecocks RHP Blake Cooper joins the show (73:45-116:52) to chat about his recruitment to USC, developing into a Friday night starter, beating UCLA in the National Championship, life playing pro ball, coaching at The Citadel and more. Finally, Gamecocks head baseball coach Mark Kingston joins the show (117:00-125:04) to chat about the upcoming season, questions in the pitching staff, new faces in the lineup and more. All that and more on a jam packed episode of The Spurs Up Show. iTunes Stitcher Google Play Buzzsprout
  15. USC sets pitcher rotation. Here’s our projection for Opening Day starting lineup February 13, 2019 The first name was known. The second was new but ultimately expected. The third is someone Gamecock fans may know nothing about. South Carolina baseball has set its starting rotation for its opening weekend against Liberty, the team announced Wednesday. Sophomore Carmen Mlodzinski will get the start Friday night, as expected. Freshman Dylan Harley will go Saturday — coach Mark Kingston heavily hinted as such last week. And junior Reid Morgan will take the mound Sunday. Kingston and pitching coach Skylar Meade kept observers guessing throughout the preseason, initially indicating that they were considering seven pitchers for three spots. In addition, Kingston left open the possibility of employing an “opener” or some other unconventional bullpen strategy. In the end, Mlodzinski locked up the ace spot as the Gamecocks’ only experienced returning starter. Harley, who led the state in strikeouts in high school, came in and impressed right away with high velocity and good stuff. Morgan, a junior college transfer, initially came to USC as a likely bullpen arm but pitched well throughout the spring. Hayden Lehman, another junior college transfer, and sophomores John Gilreath and TJ Shook, will all be considered to start in midweek games. 2019 LINEUP PROJECTION Catcher: Chris Cullen The staff really love the changes Cullen has made physically since last year and consider him the best defensive catcher on the team. First base: Josiah Sightler Right now, first base remains a battle between the freshman Sightler and sophomore Jordan Holladay, and Kingston hinted that Holladay is the more finished player at the moment. “You have to make a short-term and a long-term decision. So sometimes a guy might be a little bit ahead of another guy, but the ceiling for one guy is higher, so you think with enough at-bats, one guy will pass them eventually,” Kingston said of the position. Sightler seems likely to get the nod at first, and if he can’t improve with those early at-bats, Holladay would get a chance. Platooning remains a possibility as well. Second base: Noah Campbell One of the few spots where there’s been no question since the fall. Shortstop: Nick Neville Neville’s main competition, George Callil, missed a large portion of the preseason with injury, but it likely wouldn’t have mattered, as Neville has been swinging the bat well these past few weeks. Kingston has all but named Neville the starter — “Right now, Nick is playing the best shortstop for us,” he said. Third base: Jacob Olson The outfield/third base debate for Olson seems to have tilted decisively in favor of the infield spot. He’s spent essentially the entire preseason playing the hot corner. Left field: Brady Allen Redshirt freshman Ian Jenkins is out for a few weeks with a tweaked knee, and Allen appears to be swinging the best bat of the remaining contenders. However, this might be the most wide-open spot left in the lineup outside of first base, and Kingston might try platooning or trotting out different guys to start the year. Center field: TJ Hopkins Health was the only way Hopkins wouldn’t have this spot, and he seems fine so far (knock on wood). Right field: Andrew Eyster Hitters like Eyster have to be in the lineup. His mammoth 500-foot home run the other day off the Founders Park scoreboard is proof of that. Designated hitter: Luke Berryhill “Right now Berryhill has done enough that if he’s not catching to be our DH,” Kingston confirmed.
  16. Retiring numbers, honoring USC’s baseball tradition — Mark Kingston wants more of it February 13, 2019 THE STATE South Carolina baseball fans showing up on opening day this Friday will be greeted by a new sight along the right field wall. Stretching from the foul pole to the bullpen, the years of South Carolina’s NCAA tournament, Super Regional and College World Series appearances are now listed, as well as the years when the Gamecocks finished as national runners-up. In addition, the national championship logos from 2010 and 2011 flank either side of the center field wall. The new decals are the idea of coach Mark Kingston, who’s starting his second season with USC. Despite coming to Columbia with no connection to the program, Kingston said he felt it was important to install visual reminders of the team’s rich history for everyone to see. “I think the tradition of our program is so great, and I want to honor it every chance we get. It’s a chance to honor every great player, coach, team that’s ever played here and see it every day for our players, our fans. Any time we can honor the people who built this program, I’m all for it,” Kingston said. On the left field wall, the No. 1 jersey and name of former coach Ray Tanner remains the only jersey retired in program history. But Kingston is on the same page as Tanner, now the athletic director — both men want to retire more jerseys, though the timeline for doing so remains unclear. “We want to retire numbers as well. There’s one out there right now. We’d like to add a lot more because there’s been a lot of deserving people in our program that deserve to be up on the wall,” Kingston said. “That has to go through different channels but that’s something you’ll definitely see as well.” IF YOU GO What: South Carolina baseball vs. Liberty Where: Founders Park When: Friday, 4 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, 1:30 p.m. Tickets: Starting at $6 Radio: 107.5 FM in Columbia area Watch: Games 1 and 3 streaming on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN Weather forecast: Mostly cloudy with a chance of showers on Friday, chance of precipitation at 30 percent with a high of 68 degrees. The chance of rain rises on Saturday and Sunday to 40 percent, with the temperature dipping slightly to highs of 66 and 63, respectively.
  17. South Carolina baseball has its opening weekend rotation set to face the Liberty Flames February 12, 2019 Coach Mark Kingston will turn to sophomore Carmen Mlodzinskias the starting pitcher on Opening Day. Freshman Dylan Harley, a left-hander from Cane Bay High School, will start on Saturday against the Flames. The Sunday starter is junior Reid Morgan, who is in his first year with the program after a year at San Jacinto Junior College.
  18. Season Preview: Underrated Gamecocks poised to take SEC by surprise again Feb. 10, 2019 SPURS & FEATHERS A few hours before South Carolina took the field for the first workouts of 2019, the first college baseball polls were released and, for the second year in a row, the Gamecocks were not in the top 25. That didn’t sit well with some of the team’s veteran players, who helped the Gamecocks reach the NCAA Super Regionals last year and finish the season ranked No. 12 in the final polls. But head coach Mark Kingston understood. “We lost everybody,” said Kingston, who must replace seven starting position players, three starting pitchers and one of his key relievers from last season. “Nobody knows what we are right now, except for the people in that room.” After missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years in 2017, Kingston’s first South Carolina team entered the 2018 season outside the national rankings. But led by a strong senior class and a veteran team, the Gamecocks rallied from a slow start to make the postseason and win the Greenville (N.C.) Regional. In his first season, Kingston took an underachieving team, reshaped the lineup, added just the right mix of motivation and guided the Gamecocks to within one game of the College World Series. “I reminded them of that,” Kingston said. “Right now, nobody knows anything about us. … So my message is, I don’t know if we are going to Omaha or not, but we will maximize this roster again and we will go as far as this team is capable of going and at the end we will be able to look in the mirror and say this was another building block in the program and another year of pushing this thing back where it needs to be.” Kingston’s other message to his team and fans is this: Don’t panic. Last year’s team was 20-17 at midseason and started 1-5 in the SEC. But the Gamecocks won 12 of their last 17 games, including five straight SEC series, to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament. After losing five key seniors and eight players to the MLB Draft, Kingston and his staff will have to be patient and work their magic again. With 18 new players, it may take time for the new group to gel and adjust to the elite level of college baseball. “We have so many new names, we have so many roles to figure out. We have so many guys playing at this level for the first time, so if we have some bumps in the road, it’s going to be very important to make sure we stay steady and stay the course until everything falls into place again,” Kingston said. The Gamecocks will have as many as five new players in the everyday lineup and must replace its entire starting rotation after the loss of Adam Hill and Cody Morris to the draft and Logan Chapman to Tommy John surgery. But the addition of eight junior-college transfers and some talented freshmen will help. “We have some guys who have some talent, for sure, but are going to have to grow up in a hurry,” assistant coach Mike Current said. “… If you bear with us early on and let those guys get their feet wet and start to get some experience, I think it is a group that is going to gel and start to come together and we have the ability to do pretty good.” The Gamecocks will lean on seniors TJ Hopkins, Jacob Olson and Chris Cullen and super sophomore Noah Campbell. But they have plenty of holes to fill. Here’s a look at how the teams looks position to position. PITCHING Pitching coach Skylar Meade, who led Louisville to the 2007 College World Series as a left-handed pitcher, didn’t arrive at South Carolina until after fall camp last year and had very little time to get to know his new pitching staff before the 2018 season. The former pitching coach at Michigan State has spent the past year implementing his own program and developing the new and returning hurlers. As preseason camp came to a close, he was pleased with what he saw from his eight returning pitchers and seven newcomers, including four talented freshmen. Though the starting rotation is still a bit of a question mark, there is more depth and more options than last season. “There are a lot of guys that look comfortable, they look the part, they have better breaking stuff, that is an absolute truth,” he said. “I think there are going to be more options, but we have to make sure we make the right moves with those options.” Throwing strikes was a challenge last year as the Gamecocks walked 274 batters in 553 innings, including 14 in the two losses to Arkansas in the Super Regional. They improved that ratio significantly during the preseason. In the next-to-last scrimmage, Gamecock pitchers struck out 13 batters against just two walks. “I think we have a lot more feel for the strike zone with multiple pitches,” Meade said. “Last year, we didn’t have a lot of guys who could spin the baseball. I think there is a lot more of that, which is really going to benefit us as we get into bigger spots.” Though the rotation lacks experience, it will be backed by a deep and experienced bullpen. Rotation The only sure thing entering the spring was sophomore right-hander Carmen Mlodzinski, who is expected to be the Friday night starter. Mlodzinski made 19 appearances, including seven starts, last year and compiled a 3-6 record with a 5.52 ERA with one save and 43 strikeouts in 45.2 innings. He has put on about 15 pounds, added a cutter as a fourth pitch and Meade calls him a “completely different cat.” “He’s added some new things to his repertoire and is going to be a real star in this program,” he said. “Physically, he looks much better. He looks like an SEC guy,” Kingston said. “He has a very mature calmness about him right now but is married with being a competitor. I just think everything you can grade a pitcher on has gotten better.” The Gamecocks had six other pitchers competing for starting spots entering spring camp, but the guy who surged ahead of the rest was freshman left-hander Dylan Harley. A late signee from Cane Bay High School in Summerville, Harley wowed coaches in his first three preseason starts and appeared to be closing in on a spot in the weekend rotation. “He is a name not many are aware of right now, but at the end of the year, everybody will know who he is,” Kingston said. “He’s a lefty freshman with a power arm and has a very bright future in our program.” The third spot in the weekend rotation and the mid-week starters will come down to sophomores John Gilreath and TJ Shook and junior-college transfers Reid Morgan and Hayden Lehman. Gilreath, Shook and Morgan all pitched well throughout the preseason and were outstanding in their final starts. Lehman struggled early but was solid in his last outing. Morgan, who struck out six in four innings in his last outing, could also play a key role in the bullpen if he does not start. Kingston and Meade have considered using an "opener" or some starters for only two or three innings — or once through the batting order — and then turning the game over to the bullpen, much like the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s did last year. They talked to coaches of the Rays and other teams during the offseason about the new trends for managing a rotation. With a deep and strong bullpen, that strategy just might work. “We are going to use a lot of different dudes and match guys up,” Meade said. “I think that is really going to give our staff an identity where everyone has a role. I think we will be able to do a lot of different things.” Bullpen The strength of the pitching staff may be the bullpen, which is deep and experienced. It is led by junior closer Sawyer Bridges, a bulldog who overcame a serious shoulder injury to record two wins, five saves and a 1.33 ERA last year. He looks even better this spring and should be a lock-down closer for the Gamecocks. “He just needs to stay healthy and sharp,” Kingston said. “If he does that, he’s our closer and I’ll take my chances with him every day of the week and twice on Sunday.” Senior Ridge Chapman, a power pitcher who had 36 strikeouts in 38 innings last year, also will be used in key situations, giving the Gamecocks two experienced pitchers at the back end of the bullpen. Sophomore Parker Coyne, redshirt freshman Cam Tringali and junior-college pitcher Cole Ganopulos, a left-hander, also should play key roles, while hard-throwing freshmen Wesley Sweatt and Daniel Lloyd are coming on. Meade vows his pitchers will compete and throw strikes. “We are going to pitch with a lot of emotion, passion and intensity,” he said. “These guys are going to work quick and they are going to pound the zone.” AROUND THE HORN Josiah Sightler was a 12th-round pick by the Cincinnati Reds but turned down a nice signing bonus to play at South Carolina. Kingston says Sightler has Justin Smoak-like power potential, and he showed it in the first preseason scrimmage, hitting a bomb over the bullpen in right-center field. “He’s not a finished product, but he is very talented and he has big-time power,” Kingston said. “… He’s a guy we have high hopes for.” Sightler is competing with sophomore Jordan Holladay at first base and the two could platoon early in the season. Noah Campbell, who started at DH as a freshman, will be the starting second baseman. He hit .270 with a .372 on-base percentage as a freshman but tore up the elite Cape Cod League over the summer, finishing second in the league in batting average (.364) and on-base percentage. Kingston says succeeding in the wooden bat league up north was a “huge step” for Campbell, a preseason All-American who is expected to lead off and ignite the Gamecock offense. “He had a solid first season for us, but we all know there is a lot more in the tank for him,” he said. “He came back with a much higher sense of maturity and confidence and just a feeling that he belongs now with the best in the country.” Junior-college transfer Nick Neville has shown good pop at the plate and is expected to be the starting shortstop. He will be backed up by George Callil, another JUCO. The key position in the infield is third base, where senior Jacob Olson appears to have won the third-base job after transitioning from right field. The two-year starter moved to third to help free up an outfield spot for some of the team’s new additions and spent the fall and offseason working on his infield defense. “I have 100 percent confidence that he can play third base well for us. Now we have to see how do the pieces around him fit,” Kingston said during spring camp. “He’s a great team player, he’ll play wherever we need him, but he’s made some really nice progress at third base.” If Olson is needed in the outfield, Quinnten Perez, another junior-college transfer, and freshman Jonah Beamon could step in at third. Perez, Beamon and Callil give the Gamecocks three utility players who can play all over the infield. Outfield Perhaps the biggest key for South Carolina is the health of centerfielder TJ Hopkins. The senior from Summerville hit .345 last season but missed 26 games with hand and back injuries. The Gamecocks were 21-9 when he was in the line-up. Hopkins, who has All-American potential, worked hard during the offseason to recover from the back injury and was “100 percent” healthy during preseason camp. He is on a strict pre-hab program and Kingston plans to be careful with him and monitor his practice workload to keep him healthy. “I’m healthy and ready to roll,” said Hopkins, who had an outstanding preseason. “Now we just need fate to smile on us and allow him to stay healthy,” Kingston said. “If he does, he is one of the premier players in the country.” Hopkins will be flanked by two intriguing newcomers. Kingston calls Andrew Eyster “one of the best hitters in the country.” As a junior-college All-American, he hit .412 with 13 home runs and 53 RBI at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla. He followed that up as the MVP of the Virginia Valley League last summer, hitting .421 with 11 home runs. Kingston calls Eyster a “natural hitter” with “big-time pop,” which he showed when he hit the scoreboard during batting practice during the preseason. “He’s a guy that will definitely have a major impact for us this year,” Kingston said. Brady Allen, who was drafted by the Yankees out of high school, was one of the team’s most impressive freshmen in the fall and carried it over into the preseason. He was one of three newcomers (along with Eyster) to homer in the first preseason scrimmage. Kingston calls Allen, who will play right field, a “gamer.” “He’s a kid who loves to play the game and works really hard. He’s got a chance to be an impact player for us.” Catchers The Gamecocks have three catchers who could all play but Cullen is the key. After suffering a knee injury as a sophomore — he had surgery near the end of the 2016 season — he has battled injuries the last two years and struggled last year, hitting just .190. He worked rigorously during the offseason, dropped 25 pounds and had an impressive preseason, leading the Gamecocks in hitting. Kingston hopes he will have the type of senior season he got from senior Hunter Taylor last year. “Chris knows this is his last go-around,” he said. “He knows it’s do well now or maybe baseball is over, so he has made a major commitment physically to get himself in the best shape he has ever been in and by far the best shape I have seen him since I have been here.” Luke Berryhill hit .376 with 13 home runs and 45 RBI last year to help lead Walters State to a 60-8 record and the junior-college World Series. He led the Gamecocks in home runs in the fall and hit another in the first spring scrimmage. He is expected to split time with Cullen and be the regular DH when he is not catching. “He’s a big, strong kid that gives you good at-bats and can hit a home run at any time,” Kingston said. Freshman Wes Clarke, a high school All-American and the Virginia Player of the Year, has shown good power but needs time to develop defensively. Lineup The Gamecocks should have a nice mix of speed and power. A big question entering the season is who will hit leadoff and who will bat in the middle of the order. Campbell and Hopkins can both lead off, while Eyster and Berryhill look like middle-of-the-order hitters. Here’s a look at what the opening day lineup could look like: 2B Campbell SS Neville CF Hopkins LF Eyster DH Berryhill 3B Olson C Cullen 1B Sightler/Holladay RF Allen The Gamecocks hit .279 as a team and blasted 79 home runs in 63 games last year. Kingston believes this year’s group could have just as much power, it just may take awhile for it to develop. “Power has always been a part of this program, it’s something that I value very much,” he said. “We think the raw power among our offensive players is very similar to last year, just how often will they be able to do it in games?” With a host of new players and plenty of question marks, South Carolina is being overlooked entering the season. But that’s just fine with Kingston. He proved last year that preseason expectations mean very little. “I think we have a shot,” he said. “We are going to have to earn it on the field every day again, but we’ll just see. At this point, I couldn’t care less about the polls. As a coach, I can use it as motivation for our guys to keep that chip on their shoulder and we’ll see what happens.”
  19. This senior Gamecock slimmed down for a ‘sweet six-pack’ — and a career year February 10, 2019 THE STATE Chris Cullen lost his job with South Carolina in 2018 to a leaner, stronger, more veteran player trying desperately to keep his baseball dreams alive. Heading into 2019, the roles are reversed, and he’s trying to be that veteran player. Now a senior, Cullen was an MLB draftee out of high school, ranked as a top-level recruit by Perfect Game. In his first season in 2016, he made an immediate impact, earning SEC All-Freshman honors and starting 41 games for a Super Regional team. His sophomore season started off strong as well, as Cullen was identified by the coaching staff as a potential breakout candidate. In 34 games, he hit .276 with five home runs and 18 RBIs. But a knee injury endedhis year early. Still, heading into his junior year, Cullen was expected to return and play an important role for the Gamecocks under new head coach Mark Kingston. That never happened. Hunter Taylor, a senior catcher who had never hit above .240 and had two home runs in three years, exploded onto the scene. Taylor lost 30 pounds before his final season while simultaneously getting stronger than ever, impressing Kingston enough to become the full-time starter. He hit .261 with nine homers and 34 RBIs — more than his previous three years combined. He started 47 of 63 games, including virtually every game down the stretch. Cullen, meanwhile, regressed. With Taylor catching, he bounced around from first base to third base to designated hitter. The majority of his 32 starts came earlier in the season, and he hit just .190, striking out more than he got hits. Nagging injuries once again frustrated him. “Any time an athlete has to deal with injuries, it’s extremely frustrating, and I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s not been frustrating, because it has been. But you just got to try to put all that past you,” Cullen said. Now in 2019, Taylor is gone, but Cullen will still have to fend off former high school All-American Luke Berryhill and talented freshman Wes Clarke to re-take the starting catcher spot. In order to do so, he’s tried to do exactly what Taylor did. “It was kinda obvious — Hunter had his career year because he put the work in over holiday breaks, stuff like that, getting in better shape and losing some unhealthy weight and just getting in the best possible shape he could for his senior season. And we took that approach this year and I lost some bad weight myself. I’m feeling good, I’m probably feeling the best I’ve felt,” Cullen said. Listed at 226 pounds as a junior, Cullen is now down to 215, his lowest weight since he was a freshman. He’s lost that extra poundage with help from the team’s nutritionist, Tommy Jensen. The key, he said, was less about giving up a major staple in his diet and more about a behavioral change. “It’s just the extra snacking that really got me. I’ve just been crushing a bunch of proteins, vegetables and enough carbs to keep me energetic. But when I’m just chilling at home and get bored, playing PlayStation, watching a movie, I can’t go to the pantry and grab a bag of chips or drink a soda or something like that. So I gotta be disciplined in what I do at home,” Cullen explained. The motivation to do so was obvious. “I’m trying to get a sweet six-pack for the beach, so that motivation’s always helpful,” Cullen joked. In all seriousness, though, this is it for Cullen. After going undrafted as a junior, he needs a breakout senior season like Taylor had to have a chance at pro baseball. “Chris knows this is his last go-around,” Kingston said. “He knows that it’s do well, or maybe baseball’s over. So he’s made a major commitment physically to get in the best shape he’s ever been in, by far the best shape I’ve seen him in since I’ve been here. You can see, there’s more life in the body, more energy, there’s a better attitude on a daily basis.” On the field, Cullen has distinguished himself as the Gamecocks’ best defensive catcher, Kingston has said this preseason, particularly with his blocking ability. At the plate, he’s been swinging the bat well, but so have Berryhill and Clarke. That competition has remained friendly, though, despite the stakes for Cullen. “As long as I’ve been here all the catchers have been awesome friends, we’ve all supported each other, but the competition every single day is tough,” Cullen said. “We’re all pushing each other, we’re all trying to make each other better, but at the same time, the friendship is still there.” Should either of them beat out Cullen for the starting job, he said he is willing to play other positions as asked, though he considers himself a catcher at heart. “I see myself doing whatever coach Kingston needs me to do. I’m confident enough and prepared enough,” Cullen said.
  20. From Kingston's twitter: That looks awesome. I can't wait for the season to start.
  21. If fate smiles on this Gamecock, Kingston thinks he can be premier national player January 30, 2019 T.J. Hopkins expects to play more than 60 games during the 2019 season, and Mark Kingston expects him to be one of the country’s best players when he does, but everyone involved with South Carolina baseball is taking slow when it comes to the Gamecocks senior outfielder. “His health right now is very good,” Kingston said. “He has made a very big commitment to be in the rehab room every day. His prehab as we call it is at the highest level so I think he’s made the commitment necessary to try to stay healthy. Obviously there are things that are out of your hands but in terms of getting healthy and doing the things he needs to to stay healthy, he’s where he needs to be. Now we just need fate to smile on us.” It didn’t last year. Hopkins was limited to 37 games by litany of injuries, the most serious being a fracture vertebrae in his back that kept him out of the lineup throughout the postseason. “I don’t know the exact date it happened or what even happened,” he said. “It just happened over time I think.” It probably happened in the batting cage, where Hopkins now says he was spending too much time in past years. His daily routine often featured more than 300 swings, he said. “He knows he needed to make some changes,” said South Carolina junior pitcher Sawyer Bridges who was also Hopkins’ teammate at Summerville High School. “He loves to hit. Nobody is going to outwork T.J. but it kind of got him hurt. It kind of wore him down a little bit. This last year I have seen him take more priority swings and not as much just swinging to go out there and swing. I think that’ll be a big change for him.” Hopkins is now on a swing count and performs a physical therapy session every day at the ballpark. “I’m not even allowed to hit off the machine,” he said. “I’ve taken probably 30 swings off the machine where everyone else has probably taken 1,000. I’m just hitting off the tee, getting loose then just going straight to (batting practice).” The lack of swings has not negatively impacted him, he said. “I have always hit a lot. As I’ve gotten older, I have realized that’s not the way to go about it,” he said. “I’ve been going with it, and my swing feels better than ever. I have put the work in and I’m just ready to get going.” Hopkins hit .345 last season with 24 RBI and two home runs. For his career, he’s a .300 hitter with 70 RBI and eight home runs. “If he’s healthy and playing like we all know he can play, he’s one of the premier players in the country,” Kingston said. “He’s a five-tool player. I don’t know for sure what our record was last year when he played, but I know it was really good.” The Gamecocks were 25-12 with Hopkins in the lineup last year and 12-14 without him. “He’s a key part for us,” Kingston said. The plan is for him to be an even bigger part in Kingston’s second year. Hopkins will hit in the top third of the lineup this season, Kingston said. “I am just so excited to get going. I really don’t set goals,” Hopkins said. “I just want to be healthy all season and help this team win as much as I can.”
  22. Gamecocks have raw power. Now Mark Kingston’s trying to turn it into home runs January 28, 2019 In coach Mark Kingston’s first season in 2018, South Carolina baseball launched 79 home runs, tied for fourth in the SEC and the most the program has had since 2011. Heading into 2019, Kingston believes the Gamecocks can continue that power surge. His belief, naturally, is rooted in numbers — analytics have become central to USC’s approach under Kingston. “The general data shows that we have the same amount of raw power that we did last year, but it’s less experienced hitters,” Kingston said Sunday. “So will they be able to do it in games, will they able to pick the right pitches to get their power swings off? A lot of that is still to be determined, but from a raw data standpoint, we have the same amount of power as last year.” The first weekend of scrimmages in the preseason seemed to indicate that inexperience won’t stop Carolina from mashing the ball this year. Across 27 half-innings of baseball, USC hitters connected for four home runs, with freshmen Brady Allen and Josiah Sightler and junior college transfers Luke Berryhill and Nick Neville accounting for the bombs. Neville had one of hardest hits of the weekend, a blast that came off his bat at 105 miles per hour and landed in the right field bullpen. In addition, Kingston has expressed excitement about the power of senior Jacob Olson, who was second on the team in home runs last year, senior T.J. Hopkins and junior Andrew Eyster, who slugged 13 long balls in 49 games in JUCO ball. Power won’t be the only aspect of South Carolina’s offense this spring, though. After stealing 48 bases last season compared to 36 the year before, the Gamecocks will continue to emphasize running the bases, Kingston said. Over the weekend, sophomore infielder Noah Campbell was particularly aggressive in taking off once he reached base. Conversely, not allowing any wild pitches and holding runners on has been a focus for USC’s pitchers and defense, Kingston said. “It’s a big part of the game,” he said. “One of the big things we talk about is not giving up free bases whether that’s walks, steals, passed balls or wild pitches, and trying to get those for our offense as well. Running the bases is one of those things is sometimes people don’t appreciate how important those extra 90 feet is throughout the course of the game.” ROTATION UPDATE After the first few scrimmages of the new year, Kingston was unwilling to declare any winners or losers in the battle for the Gamecocks’ weekend rotation, where at least seven pitchers are competing for three spots. “I think (sophomore Carmen Mlodzinski) had a good week, (freshman Dylan Harley)had a good week. I don’t think anyone had a bad week. I think it’s going to be close with a lot of guys trying to inch ahead,” Kingston said. “It’s still too early to say, but none of them hurt themselves.” Kingston did say, however, that USC’s pitching is slightly ahead of its hitting at the moment, in large part due to the staff’s lack of walks. In 2018, South Carolina hurlers issued more free passes than any season in program history since 2002. “There’s a lot of guys throwing strikes, our walks are way down from what they were a year ago at this time,” Kingston said.
  23. A preseason to-do list for South Carolina baseball and Mark Kingston January 26, 2019 THE STATE South Carolina baseball began its full-team practices for the spring on Friday, three weeks ahead of the Gamecocks’ season opener against Liberty on Feb. 15. Head coach Mark Kingston, in his second year leading USC, faces a significant challenge in replacing 70 percent of last season’s at-bats and 62 percent of innings pitched. The Gamecocks will enter the season unranked by Baseball America, D1Baseball or Collegiate Baseball, but still dealing with high expectations both within and outside the program. Here are some items likely to be at the top of Kingston’s to-do list for the preseason. Figure out where to put Jacob Olson: Olson, one of the few everyday contributors from last season to return, has spent the vast majority of his two years with the Gamecocks in right field. But this past fall, he switched to third base, and Kingston has yet to say which position he wants him to play. The key to that decision may have less to do with Olson and more to do with those who would take his place if he played one spot over the other. “I have 100 percent confidence he can play third base well for us. Now, we have to see how do the pieces around him fit,” Kingston said at his media day press conference on Wednesday. If Olson plays third, freshman Brady Allen, who impressed Kingston in the fall, seems the most likely option to take right field, with Ian Jenkins or Jacob English as other possibilities. If Olson returns to the outfield, some combination of JUCO transfers Nick Neville and George Callil will likely take shortstop and third base. Olson himself declined to say whether he had a personal preference for one or the other, only saying that he’ll play wherever there’s the greatest need for him. So over the next three weeks, his potential backups will likely draw increased scrutiny to see who could thrive the most, given the opportunity. Find starters, or try something new: Kingston has been toying with the idea of radically changing the structure of his pitching staff since the fall. He’s considering seven guys for three spots and hoping a trio will distinguish themselves, not only as better than the rest but also capable of going six or seven innings every weekend. Sophomore Carmen Mlodzinski seems locked in as the Friday night starter. Beyond that, things could get weird if none of the other contenders impress Kingston enough. Or he could just be messing with everyone to gain an edge and have no intention whatsoever of trying something unusual. Judge the battle of the backstop: Senior Chris Cullen has lost weight, stayed healthy and feels as good as he has in a long while, he told reporters Wednesday, and the hope he and Kingston share is that he can emulate Hunter Taylor, last season’s senior catcher who slimmed down, felt great and produced a career year that proved vital to the Gamecocks’ late run to the postseason. Taylor had to beat out Cullen first to make that happen, and this preseason, Cullen will have to ward off challenges from junior college transfer Luke Berryhill, who led the team in home runs in the fall, and freshman Wes Clarke, a former MLB draftee. Both are behind Cullen defensively, Kingston said, but Berryhill in particular impressed during fall ball with his bat and speed. There’s a possibility Cullen could spend time at either of the corner infield spots, which he played at points last year, but he said Wednesday that he primarily considers himself a catcher, though he’d be willing to move if asked by the coaching staff. Polish up Sightler: Freshman Josiah Sightler was Carolina’s highest MLB draft pick to make it onto campus, as the 12th-round selection turned down a hefty signing bonus to come to Columbia. Now, he’s probably the rookie with the highest upside on the Gamecocks, and USC has a bit of a need at first base, meaning Sightler will probably get plenty of opportunities. The question now will be how soon Kingston can channel all that potential into a reliable option. “He’s not a finished product. He’s not ready to be the All-American first baseman and carry us to Omaha, but he’s very talented,” Kingston said. “He has big-time power, is an extremely hard worker, and did a tremendous job in the classroom as a freshman, which shows the discipline necessary to do well in other areas of your life. He’s a guy we have high hopes for. He’s a hard worker, he’s a sponge in terms of learning what he needs to learn, and he’s always in the cages getting extra swings. It’s just a matter of time; how quickly that gets here is everybody’s guess. We’re hoping he’s a major part of this year’s team.” Keep everyone healthy: This is the obvious goal for every coach in America, but the Gamecocks especially can’t afford to lose several players who had health concerns — outfielders T.J. Hopkins and Ian Jenkins and pitchers Ridge Chapman and Sawyer Bridges. Hopkins in particular has struggled with injuries his entire career and suffered through a back ailment at the end of last season. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the better players in the SEC, Kingston said. The key throughout the fall was limiting his reps and working smarter, not harder. Now that the season is drawing near, the Gamecocks’ training staff and Hopkins will have to hold steady with that plan. It probably couldn’t hurt to bring the others along slowly as well. FAN APPRECIATION DAY After Saturday’s scrimmage at 1:30 p.m., fans can meet the 2019 team and receive autographs on this year’s poster. MORE KEY USC BASEBALL DATES Feb. 9: Women’s clinic (details at SouthCarolinaBaseballCamps.com) Feb. 15: Opening Day vs. Liberty, 4 p.m. March 1-3: USC-Clemson series
  24. Year 1, Part 2? In a key way, Mark Kingston and USC are right back where they started January 24, 2019 South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston faced a tall order in his first season with the Gamecocks in 2018 — He was taking over one of the sport’s most storied programs that hadn’t missed back-to-back NCAA tournaments in more than 20 years. He exceeded just about everyone’s expectations with a Super Regional berth, one win short of the College World Series. But rather than building off that finish and automatically expecting more in his second go-around, Kingston is, at least in some ways, starting from scratch. The Gamecocks are turning over their entire weekend rotation and the majority of their starting lineup, thanks to a combination of the MLB draft, graduations and transfers. That lack of returning depth kept Carolina unranked in Collegiate Baseball, Baseball Americaand D1Baseball’s preseason polls, despite finishing last year in the top 15 of all of them. “From a personnel standpoint, it feels like we’re starting at square one for sure because we gotta figure out a lot of different positions and combinations of lineups,” Kingston acknowledged. In many other ways, however, Kingston feels far more comfortable this year having the benefit of a season’s experience under his belt. “In terms of having been now through the SEC, having seen what our crowds are like, having seen what’s the media like, all those things, it does feel like it’s Year 2 and you have a better feel for what is expected and how to handle things,” Kingston said. “But from a personnel standpoint — at the end of the day, that’s what’s most important, who’s on the field playing and making pitches and get hits — from that point, we’ve taken a step back and it’s back to square one.” From a mental standpoint, how much the Gamecocks can use last year’s success as a springboard for this season isn’t obvious. On one hand, Kingston and his returners have the benefit of lessons learned from their tournament run. On the other, newcomers will play a huge role in determining the Gamecocks’ identity, and there’s never any guarantee momentum will carry over after a long offseason. “When I came in as a freshman, we were just coming off a Super Regional, and that’s one of the most talented teams I’ve ever been around,” junior reliever Sawyer Bridges said of the 2017 team that fell short of the NCAA tournament. “(But) there was just a trickle effect that happened during the season that no one could really explain and no one really thought was going to happen in the preseason, whereas last season we weren’t coming with any momentum from the year before.” There is a huge lesson Kingston said he wants his team to carry over from last year, and it’s one he likely hopes the fan base embraces as well given all that turnover and talk of going back to “square one” in personnel. “Don’t panic. There’s going to be tough times over the course of a long baseball season. We play many more games than football and basketball, so there’s going to be some bad days, you’re going to lay an egg sometimes,” Kingston said of his message. “It doesn’t define you if you have a bad day, you just have to keep working on the things that matter. You have to focus on what your process is and don’t panic, stay the course. We did that last year. We had some ups and downs but once everything came together and we got healthy and we figured out the right roles for guys, we were as good as anybody. “There’s a good chance that might happen again this year. We have so many new names, so many roles to figure out, so many guys playing at this level for the first time, and so if we have some bumps in the road, it’s going to be very important to make sure we stay steady.” First scrimmages See the Gamecocks in an intrasquad scrimmage at 3:30 p.m. Friday, 1:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday. All scrimmages are at Founders Park and are free and open to the public. Fan Appreciation Day After Saturday’s scrimmage, fans can meet the 2019 team and receive autographs on this year’s poster. More key USC baseball dates Feb. 9: Women’s clinic (details at SouthCarolinaBaseballCamps.com) Feb. 15: Opening Day vs. Liberty, 4 p.m. March 1-3: USC-Clemson series
  25. WITH VIDEOS: Gamecock Baseball Media Day January 23, 2019 With South Carolina baseball poised to begin full-team practices for the 2019 season, the state of coach Mark Kingston’s pitching staff remains as undefined as he left it in the fall. (MORE)

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