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Crunch Time: Gamecock Baseball Hosts No. 1 LSU

Brutal gauntlet awaits No. 6 South Carolina as it seeks to continue bounceback campaign …

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Critics of the University of South Carolina baseball program (including this author) have been ingesting generous portions of humble pie in recent weeks as sixth-year head coach Mark Kingston’s team has been definitionally en fuego.

Gamecock baseball got off to a scorching start this year … and has been able to keep the momentum going through its first thirty games.

Kingston’s team has raced out to a 27-3 record and the No. 6 ranking in the nation, according to D1Baseball – including a 5-0 blanking of No. 14 North Carolina at Truist Field in Charlotte, N.C. earlier this week.

To put the Gamecocks’ current 2023 performance in perspective, the team won just 27 games during the entirety of the 2022 campaign – which saw the program record its first losing record since 1996. For those of you doing the math at home, that was a streak of twenty-six seasons without a sub-.500 result.

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Ethan Petry (Gamecock Baseball)

Freshman two-way player Ethan Petry has been one key to the turnaround. Through thirty games, Petry is hitting .429 with 13 home runs, 42 runs batted in (RBIs) and 30 runs scored. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound freshman from Land O’Lakes, Florida leads the team in average, RBIs and slugging percentage.

Transfer Gavin Casas from Vanderbilt has also been instrumental in the offensive resurgence in Columbia – belting a team-leading 15 home runs while hitting .308 and slugging at a .785 clip (good for second best on the team). The emergence of Petry, Casas and sophomore catcher Cole Messina of Summerville, S.C. has taken some of the pressure off of 2022’s top offensive performer, senior Braylen Wimmer.

Still, Wimmer is having a huge year – hitting .330 with eight homers and 28 runs batted in. Wimmer has also successfully swiped all thirteen of the bases he’s tried to steal this season – and leads the Gamecocks with 39 runs scored.

As far as pitching – which was the strength of this team heading into 2023 – senior Noah Hall has emerged as the undisputed ace of the staff. The 6-foot, 195-pound senior from Charlotte has posted a 5-1 record through seven starts with 43 strikeouts and a 3.29 earned run average (ERA). Junior Jack Mahoney has also excelled, picking up three wins in seven starts to go with his 38 strikeouts and 2.73 ERA.

Preseason ace Will Sanders – a junior out of Atlanta – has struggled so far this year with an 5.17 ERA, but Kingston and his staff are hoping he will start missing more bats as the Gamecocks enter an absolutely brutal 26-game stretch to close out their season.

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The gauntlet begins this weekend as No. 1 LSU comes to Columbia for a three-game Thursday-through-Saturday series. Sanders will start the first game on Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m. EDT while Mahoney will pitch in Friday evening’s affair, also scheduled for 7:00 p.m. EDT.

Kingston has yet to name a starter for the third game of the series, which is scheduled for noon on Saturday.

South Carolina is 18-0 at home, incidentally … but they have yet to be tested like this.

Things don’t get much easier after LSU leaves town, either. Kingston’s team has three-game series remaining at home against No. 3 Florida (April 20-22), on the road against No. 4 Vanderbilt (April 14-16) on the road against No. 5 Arkansas (May 12-14), on the road against No. 10 Kentucky (May 5-7) and at home against No. 11 Tennessee (May 18-20).

As I noted last month, South Carolina’s resurgence is not only good news for Kingston, it is good news for Gamecock athletics director Ray Tanner – who prior to this season has presided over the decline of the program he built into a perennial national championship contender over a decade 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.

Can the Gamecocks get back to the CWS for the first time in eleven seasons this year? Yes … but they are going to have to navigate the toughest schedule in the nation over the next seven weeks first.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks on phone
Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

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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