Former University of South Carolina baseball coach (and current athletics director) Ray Tanner led the Gamecock program to unprecedented heights a dozen years ago. South Carolina captured back-to-back national titles in 2010 and 2011 and reached the finals of the College World Series (CWS) the following year, ultimately falling to Arizona. During Tanner’s sixteen seasons at the helm, his teams posted a spectacular 738-313 (.700) mark – qualifying for postseason play fourteen times and never once posting a losing record.
Since then? How the mighty have fallen …
Tanner’s hand-picked successor, Chad Holbrook, couldn’t laissez les bons temps rouler. Holbrook went 199-105 (.655) in five seasons at South Carolina – including an 81-67 record against Southeastern Conference (SEC) opponents. His teams never reached the CWS and failed to qualify for the postseason in 2015 and 2017.
After Holbrook maneuvered his way out of town under Tanner’s not-so-watchful eye, the embattled athletics director hired former South Florida coach Mark Kingston (despite the fact there were several bigger names in the coaching conversation that year).
Under Kingston, the collapse of the program has accelerated. Through five seasons (including the Covid-shortened 2020 campaign), his teams have posted a 138-109 mark (.559) – including a 54-66 record (.450) against conference opponents.
The Gamecocks failed to qualify for the postseason in 2019 and 2022 – and the program posted its first losing record since 1996 last year. For those of you doing the math at home, that was a streak of twenty-six seasons without a losing record snapped.
And clearly, Kingston’s squad hasn’t so much as sniffed a trip to Omaha since he got the job …
Somehow, Kingston still has a job … and somehow, at least one preseason poll has the Gamecocks entering the 2023 season ranked No. 23 nationally. In fairness to Kingston and his staff, South Carolina was decimated by injuries last season – especially injuries to its pitching staff. This year, pitching depth could wind up being the strength of the team.
Junior Will Sanders is expected to lead a resurgent – and hopefully healthy – group of young pitchers. Sanders posted a 7-3 record last season, notching 91 strikeouts in 89.1 innings and posting a 3.43 ERA. The second-team preseason All-American – a right-hander out of Atlanta, Georgia – is expected to be joined in the rotation by junior James Hicks, senior Noah Hall and junior Jack Mahoney, although there is expected to be significant competition for rotation spots.
Both Hicks and Hall were selected in the 2022 MLB draft – and both Hicks and Mahoney are returning from injuries.
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Notre Dame transfer Roman Kimbrell, former freshman All-American Cade Austin, junior college transfer Dylan Eskew and sophomore left-hander Matthew Becker all could push for starts – or alternately provide depth out of the bullpen.
Freshman right-hander Eli Jerzembeck out of Charlotte, N.C. is also turning heads with an array of fastballs topping out at an estimated 97 miles per hour – lending yet another intriguing option to the Gamecock arms stockpile.
Offensively, senior Braylen Wimmer – the only Gamecock to start all 55 games a year ago – is expected to pace the Gamecocks’ lineup. Wimmer hit .312 with 38 runs scored, 13 doubles, seven home runs and 35 RBI last year. He also swiped 13 bases in fourteen attempts. He is expected to start at shortstop in 2023 – which could bump last year’s starter Michael Braswell to another infield spot. Braswell hit .284 with 29 runs scored, nine doubles, two triples, two home runs and 27 RBI last season.
Transfers Will McGillis (Southern Miss), Jacob Compton (Memphis), Gavin Casas (Vanderbilt), Dylan Brewer (Clemson) and Caleb Denny (Oral Roberts) are all expected to compete for at-bats as Kingston and his staff attempt to find the right lineup combinations to fill the void left by the loss of three of the team’s top four offensive producers from 2022.
We’re talking 115 runs, 31 homers, 122 RBIs … gone.
First pitch of the 2023 campaign is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. EST this Friday (February 17, 2023) as South Carolina hosts UMass Lowell in the first game of a three-game home stand against the River Hawks.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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