Baseball

Baseball Begins 2017 Season Friday Hosting UNCG

Feb. 16, 2017

Game Information

Dates: Fri. Feb. 17/ Feb. 18/Feb. 19

First Pitch: 4 p.m./2 p.m./1:30 p.m.

Location: Columbia, S.C.

Stadium: Founders Park

Television/Video: SEC Network Plus (Burch Antley & Trey Dyson) Live SEC Network Plus Video

Radio: 107.5 The Game & The Gamecock Radio Network (Derek Scott, Tommy Moody and Drew Meyer); GamecocksOnline.com

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The 125th season of South Carolina baseball begins on Friday as the Gamecocks host UNCG for a three-game series. First pitch on Opening Day is 4 p.m. at Founders Park with Saturday's game at 2 p.m. and Sunday's series finale at 1:30 p.m.

All three games will be streamed live on SEC Network Plus and can be heard on the Gamecock Radio Network.

OOT OOT

South Carolina lost a great fan and friend on February 10 with the passing of Bill "Oot Oot" Golding. Known for his Gamecock helmet with stickers, his Garnet & Black suspenders and his familiar chant of "Oot Oot" Mr. Golding loved South Carolina baseball and was a presence both at home and on the road traveling to see the Gamecocks play. We extend our condolences to his family. We will miss Mr. Golding!

We will honor Mr. Golding before Opening Day with a moment of silence and there will be a "Call to Action," for all fans to join in with a collective "Oot Oot" before first pitch. A flag with "Oot Oot" will be flying on one of the flag poles in the outfield before Opening Day and a limited number of hardhat helmets will also be given away to fans on a first come first serve basis for those attending Friday's game.

CLEAR BAG POLICY

Fans are encouraged not to bring any type of bags inside Founders Park during games; however, the following outlines bags that are permitted:

• One bag that is clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and does not exceed 12" x 6" x 12" --OR--
• One-gallon clear plastic freezer bag (Ziploc bag or similar)
--AND--
• Small clutch bags, with or without a handle or strap, that do not exceed 4.5" x 6.5" (approximately the size of a hand)
• An exception may be made for medically necessary items after proper inspection (Gates 1 & 3).

PARKING INFORMATION

Parking shuttle changes have been made this year for the 2017 baseball season. The baseball shuttle to Founders Park will now be operational at the Key Road Gravel Lot (1105 Key Road) and in Lot B of the Colonial Life Arena parking lot. Shuttles will being running two hours prior to game time.

We strongly recommend that fans use the baseball shuttle from Key Road to Founders Park over the CLA shuttle for the convenience, spacious parking (650 spaces) and less congestion than at the arena. Please remember that at the arena shuttle, parking will be limited to 50 to 75 spaces because of the student demand for parking in this area. There is a high student demand Monday through Thursday that lasts until 7 p.m. because of classes.

For GPS purposes, the address for the Key Road Gravel Lot is 1105 Key Road, Columbia, SC 29201.

Please note, the shuttle will no longer be run at Capital City Baseball Stadium.

BUSINESS LOTS DURING AFTERNOON GAMES
Business lot parking passes will be honored in Lot 1 ONLY for the Feb. 17, 21, 24 and 28 afternoon baseball games based on availability. The businesses at 405 (Lot 9) and 401 (Lot 10) Huger Street request that you begin parking at 5:30 p.m. on weekdays. Other business lots open at 5 p.m. on weekdays.

GAME DAY PARKING INFORMATION (including public game day lots (PGDL: $10/$5 per game)

Weekday 4 p.m. Games (Feb. 17, 21, 23, 24 & 28)
Game Time: 4 p.m.
Stadium Opens: 2:30 p.m.
Business Lots Open: 5/5:30 p.m.
Lot 1, STDM, HDG PGDL Open: 1 p.m.
Bus Shuttle for Patrons: 2 p.m.

Weekdays
Game Time: 7 p.m.
Stadium Opens: 5:30 p.m.
Business Lots Open: 5/5:30 p.m.
Lot 1, STDM, HDG PGDL Open: 4 p.m.
Bus Shuttle for Patrons: 5 p.m.

Saturday
Game Time: 4 p.m.
Stadium Opens: 2:30 p.m.
Business Lots Open: 1 p.m.
Lot 1, STDM, HDG PGDL Open: 1 p.m.
Bus Shuttle for Patrons: 2 p.m.

Sunday
Game Time: 1:30 p.m.
Stadium Opens: Noon
Business Lots Open: 10:30 a.m.
Lot 1, STDM, HDG PGDL Open: 10:30 a.m.
Bus Shuttle for Patrons: 11:30 a.m.

ROAD CONSTRUCTION NEAR FOUNDERS PARK
For fans attending games at Founders Park this month, there is construction on Bluff Road. The construction on Bluff Road is between the intersections of Rosewood and National Guard Armory Road and is currently down to one lane in each direction with traffic stoppage.

PROBABLE PITCHING ROTATION

Friday
South Carolina - Clarke Schmidt (Jr. RHP) 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.0 IP, 0 BB, 0 SO
UNCG - Jack Maynard (Jr. RHP) 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.0 IP, 0 BB, 0 SO

Saturday
South Carolina - Wil Crowe (Jr. RHP) 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.0 IP, 0 BB, 0 SO
UNCG - Bryce Hensley (Jr. LHP) 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.0 IP, 0 BB, 0 SO

Sunday
South Carolina - Adam Hill (So. RHP) 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.0 IP, 0 BB, 0 SO
UNCG - Matt Frisbee (So. RHP) 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.0 IP, 0 BB, 0 SO

RANKINGS

South Carolina is a unanimous preseason top 5 team in all six major collegiate rankings. The Gamecocks are ranked No. 4 by Collegiate Baseball, D1Baseball and in the USA Today coaches poll and No. 5 in the nation by Baseball America, the NCBWA and Perfect Game.

SEASON OPENERS

South Carolina is 85-39 on Opening Day in school history.

WEEKEND ROTATION

Junior right-hander Clarke Schmidt, junior right-hander Wil Crowe and sophomore right-hander Adam Hill will headline the Opening Weekend rotation for the Gamecocks as announced by head coach Chad Holbrook Monday afternoon. Schmidt will start Opening Day vs. UNCG with Crowe taking the mound in Saturday's contest for the Gamecocks and Hill getting the ball for the series finale on Sunday.

This will be the second straight year that Schmidt gets the ball on Opening Day. Schmidt has been named Preseason All-America by D1Baseball, the NCBWA and Perfect Game and earned third-team All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball and the NCBWA last year after going 9-5 with a 3.40 ERA. He struck out 129 batters to 27 walks in 111.1 innings pitched with opponents hitting .248 against him. Schmidt's 129 strikeouts are the second-highest among returning pitchers from last season in Division I baseball.

Crowe is a Preseason All-America selection by Baseball America and returns to the mound this season after sitting out the 2016 campaign recovering from Tommy John surgery. Crowe went 8-3 and earned Freshman All-America honors in 2014 with a 2.75 ERA in 91.2 innings pitched. Opponents hit .228 against him. He also won three games in 2015 before suffering the injury that sidelined him the rest of the season.

Hill earned Freshman All-America last year after going 7-0 with a 3.53 ERA. He allowed 26 runs, all earned, on 49 hits in 66.1 innings. He had 72 strikeouts to 28 walks; opponents are batting .208 against him. That opposing batting average was fourth-best in the SEC. He was also named to the SEC All-Freshman team.

PRESEASON ALL-AMERICANS

Five Gamecocks have received Preseason All-America honors this year.

Junior right-hander Tyler Johnson is a first-team selection by D1Baseball, the NCBWA and Perfect Game. Last season, Johnson went 3-2 with a 2.42 ERA and had nine saves. Johnson struck out 59 to just eight walks in 52.0 innings in 29 relief appearances. Eight of Johnson's nine saves were in league play, the most by any SEC pitcher. Johnson pitched on USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team over the summer.

Schmidt has been named Preseason All-America by D1Baseball, the NCBWA and Perfect Game and earned third-team All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball and the NCBWA last year after going 9-5 with a 3.40 ERA.

Crowe is a third-team Preseason All-America selection by Baseball America and returns to the mound this season after sitting out the 2016 campaign recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Junior Alex Destino earned second-team honors from the NCBWA. Destino is South Carolina's leading returning hitter as he hit .321 last season with 10 homers and 59 RBI in 60 games with 59 starts.

Senior left-hander Josh Reagan received third-team accolades from Collegiate Baseball. Reagan returns for his senior year after going 3-2 with 11 saves in 29 relief appearances. He posted a 2.08 ERA last year and struck out 50 batters in 56.1 innings. Opponents hit .172 against him.

GAMECOCKS PREDICTED TO FINISH SECOND IN THE SEC EAST

South Carolina has been predicted to finish second in the SEC Eastern Division as voted by the league's 14 head coaches in the annual preseason poll announced on Thursday. Junior right-hander Tyler Johnson was a first-team Preseason All-SEC selection with junior Alex Destino garnering second-team honors.

South Carolina received four first place votes for the Eastern Division as well as two first place votes as SEC champion. South Carolina won its seventh SEC Eastern Division title last year with a 20-9 conference record.

Florida and LSU each garnered six votes for SEC Champion in the preseason poll. The Gators were predicted to win the SEC Eastern Division, while the Tigers were the favorite to win the SEC West.

Since 1996, the SEC has named a regular season champion as well as a tournament champion. Prior to 1996, the tournament champion was considered the SEC champion.

Points were compiled on a descending basis for each division. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team, and each coach also voted for one team as an overall conference champion.

Conference play is set to begin March 17. A total of seven SEC teams qualified for NCAA Regionals in 2016, and a record four teams were selected as national seeds.

2017 SEC Baseball Coaches Preseason Poll
Eastern Division

1. Florida (10) -- 70
2. South Carolina (4) -- 61

3. Vanderbilt -- 52
T4. Georgia -- 29
T4. Kentucky -- 29
6. Tennessee -- 20
7. Missouri -- 12

Western Division
1. LSU (13) -- 72
2. Texas A&M (1) -- 55
3. Ole Miss -- 51
4. Mississippi State -- 36
5. Arkansas -- 27
T6. Alabama -- 16
T6. Auburn -- 16

SEC Champion: Florida (6), LSU (6), South Carolina (2)

BRAG FACTS

South Carolina won the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship in 2010 and 2011 at the College World Series. South Carolina has made 11 College World Series appearances including six times in the last 15 years. In those 11 appearances, the Gamecocks are 32-20 for a .615 winning percentage, that is sixth-best among winning percentage leaders in CWS history. South Carolina is one of three schools in the nation to have reached at least 12 NCAA Super Regionals since 2000 and has the most NCAA Super Regional appearances of the 14 SEC schools since 2000. In addition, the Gamecocks own the second-highest win total in Division I baseball since 2000 (791-332 record) and more conference wins than any SEC team since 2000 (308-198 record). Recently, South Carolina is one of only four schools in the nation to host a NCAA Regional in six of the last seven years. South Carolina has ranked among the top three in the nation in total attendance for six consecutive years including a mark of 293,677 last year. South Carolina averaged a total of 7,162 fans at Founders Park in the 2016 season.

Under South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook, South Carolina has made three NCAA Regional appearances in the last four years with two NCAA Super Regional appearances in 2013 and 2016. Under Holbrook's direction, South Carolina is one of only nine schools in the nation to host a NCAA Regional in three of the last four seasons (2013, 2014, 2016). In addition, South Carolina is one of just three schools in the SEC to finish among the top four teams in three of the last four seasons and one of four schools in the league to win at least 40 games in a single season in three of four years as well.

Holbrook's 2016 team won 46 games, the most in Holbrook's four seasons as head coach of the Garnet & Black and won the 2016 SEC Eastern Division title as Carolina made its 31st trip to the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament and its 12th appearance in the NCAA Super Regional. The Gamecocks went 20-9 in the SEC with five sweeps in the 30-game conference slate. It marked just the fifth time Carolina reached 20 or more wins in the conference. The Gamecocks fought back from an opening round loss in the NCAA Columbia Regional to win four straight games and advance to the NCAA Super Regional.

SUCCEEDING IN THE CLASSROOM

The Gamecocks have found success off the field as well. The baseball team finished the fall semester with a 3.140 cumulative GPA. In addition, South Carolina was one of 29 NCAA Division I institutions to receive the 2015-16 ABCA Team Academic Excellence Award and the only SEC school to receive the honor. Baseball (3.186) recently earned its highest team GPA in season in the spring semester. In addition, 19 baseball student-athletes were named to the 2016 SEC Spring Academic Honor Roll with seven baseball student-athletes on the 2015-16 SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll.

SCOUTING UNCG

UNCG enters the 2017 season as the preseason favorite in the Southern Conference. The Spartans have been predicted to finish first in the SoCon's Preseason Coaches Poll. UNCG features six selections to the Preseason All-SoCon team. Head coach Link Larrett is in his fifth season as head coach at UNCG and was the Southern Conference Coach of the Year last year.

UNCG was 38-21 last year with a 15-9 record in the SoCon The Spartans return most of their offense from last year's club that led the NCAA in hitting with a team average of .345. Junior infielder Ben Spitznagel earned third-team ABCA All-America honors at second base after hitting .385 last year and was ninth in the nation in hits with 95 in 2016. Junior left fielder Dillon Stewart is also back after hitting 14 homers last year as is junior center fielder Andrew Moritz who hit .400 with a .454 on-base percentage. Sophomore designated hitter Cesar Trejo had nine homers with a .363 average as a freshman and junior shortstop Tripp Shelton hit at a .357 clip. Junior right-hander Andrew Wantz is UNCG's top returning pitcher. He was a first-team All-SoCon last year and averaged 11.10 strikeouts per nine innings, 20th best in the nation.

SOUTH CAROLINA 2017 HONOR ROLL

Danny Blair
Rated No. 105 best outfielder in the nation by D1Baseball
Rated No. 126 best prospect in the nation for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball

Jonah Bride
Rated No. 50 best third baseman in the nation by D1Baseball

Carlos Cortes
Rated No. 1 freshman in the SEC by Baseball America
Rated No. 1 impact freshman in the SEC by D1Baseball
Rated No. 4 best freshman in the nation by D1Baseball
Rated No. 13 best freshman in the nation by Perfect Game
Rated No. 14 best prospect in the SEC for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 14 best prospect in the SEC for 2018 MLB Draft by Perfect Game
Rated No. 37 best prospect in the nation for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 53 best outfielder in the nation by D1Baseball

Chris Cullen
Rated No. 7 best prospect in the SEC for 2018 MLB Draft by Baseball America
Rated No. 11 best prospect in the SEC for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 18 best catcher in the nation by D1Baseball
Rated No. 22 best prospect in the nation for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 85 best overall sophomore in the nation by Perfect Game

Wil Crowe
Named to USA Baseball's Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List
Preseason All-America 3rd Team (Baseball America)
Rated No. 6 best prospect in the SEC for 2017 MLB Draft by Baseball America
Rated No. 7 best prospect in the SEC for 2017 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 9 best prospect in the SEC for 2017 MLB Draft by Perfect Game
Rated No. 11 best starting pitcher in the nation by D1Baseball
Rated No. 17 best overall junior in the nation by Perfect Game
Rated No. 36 best overall prospect in the nation for 2017 MLB Draft by MLB.com

Alex Destino
Preseason All-America 2nd Team (NCBWA)
Preseason All-SEC Team (Perfect Game)
Preseason All-SEC 2nd Team (SEC Coaches Poll)
Rated No. 16 best prospect in the SEC for 2017 MLB Draft by Perfect Game
Rated No. 19 best outfielder in the nation by D1Baseball
Rated No. 21 best prospect in the SEC for 2017 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 45 best overall junior in the nation by Perfect Game

Adam Hill
Rated No. 6 best prospect in the SEC for 2018 MLB Draft by Baseball America
Rated No. 6 best prospect in the SEC for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 11 best prospect in the nation for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 15 best prospect in the SEC for 2018 MLB Draft by Perfect Game
Rated No. 49 best overall sophomore in the nation by Perfect Game
Rated No. 57 best starting pitcher in the nation by D1Baseball

TJ Hopkins
Rated No. 31 best prospect in the SEC for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 36 best outfielder in the nation by D1Baseball
Rated No. 91 best prospect in the nation for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball

Tyler Johnson
Named to NCBWA Stopper of the Year Preseason Watch List
Preseason All-America 1st Team (D1Baseball, NCBWA, Perfect Game)
Preseason All-SEC First Team (SEC Coaches Poll)
Preseason All-SEC Team (Perfect Game)
Rated No. 1 reliever in the nation by D1Baseball
Rated No. 12 best prospect in the SEC for 2017 MLB Draft by Perfect Game
Rated No. 13 best prospect in the SEC for 2017 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 14 best prospect in the SEC for 2017 MLB Draft by Baseball America
Rated No. 30 best overall junior in the nation by Perfect Game

Brandon McIlwain
Rated No. 13 best prospect in the SEC for 2018 MLB Draft by Perfect Game
Rated No. 47 best overall sophomore in the nation by Perfect Game

Cody Morris
Rated No. 16 impact freshman in the SEC by D1Baseball
Rated No. 23 best prospect in the SEC for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 32 best freshman in the nation by D1Baseball
Rated No. 62 best prospect in the nation for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 159 best starting pitcher in the nation by D1Baseball

Jacob Olson
Rated No. 34 best prospect in the SEC for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 101 best prospect in the nation for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball

Josh Reagan
Named to NCBWA Stopper of the Year Preseason Watch List
Preseason All-America 3rd Team (Collegiate Baseball)
Rated No. 12 best reliever in the nation by D1Baseball

Clarke Schmidt
Named to USA Baseball's Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List
Preseason All-America 1st Team (NCBWA)
Preseason All-America 2nd Team (Collegiate Baseball, D1Baseball, Perfect Game)
Rated No. 8 best prospect in the SEC for 2017 MLB Draft by Baseball America
Rated No. 9 best prospect in the SEC for 2017 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 10 best prospect in the SEC for 2017 MLB Draft by Perfect Game
Rated No. 11 best starting pitcher in the nation by D1Baseball
Rated No. 22 best overall junior in the nation by Perfect Game
Rated No. 35 best overall prospect in the nation for 2017 MLB Draft by MLB.com
Recognized as having the "Best Control" of all pitchers in the SEC by Baseball America

Madison Stokes
Rated No. 21 best third baseman in the nation by D1Baseball

LT Tolbert
Rated No. 25 best second baseman in the nation by D1Baseball
Rated No. 35 best prospect in the SEC for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball
Rated No. 103 best prospect in the nation for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball

2017 OUTLOOK

Talent, experience and depth are just some of the traits surrounding the South Carolina baseball team heading into the 2017 season. Fresh off the school's 12th NCAA Super Regional appearance, 31st trip to the NCAA Tournament and seventh SEC Eastern Division title, the Gamecocks are eager to return to the field with a hunger and drive to make another postseason run.

"When you play at South Carolina, I think every kid will tell you that they come to school here because they feel they are going to have an opportunity to play in the postseason and if they play well in the postseason they may have a chance to play in the College World Series," said South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook. "At South Carolina, I think that's what the expectation is and I think our players have been very hungry - fallen just short of one of those main goals last year to get back at it. Our league is very difficult and we have to take it one day at a time, but I certainly feel they have invested great energy and work ethic to put themselves in a position to accomplish great things. It has been a group that has enjoyed each other. They've pushed each other on the field, they've pushed each other off the field. Thus far, it has been a committed group."

Commitment is an important first step towards chemistry. Chemistry was a key that Coach Holbrook cited when referencing last year's successful 46-18 campaign. He is hopeful that the continued positive energy and commitment to excellence will be a cornerstone of the 2017 team.

"The chemistry part is going to become a very important factor into how well we do," stated Holbrook. "We are going to have some talented players maybe playing in a new position or maybe not playing as much as they would like to play. They are each going to have to buy into their role; they are going to have to be a great teammate and be very supportive of each other. All great teams enjoy being around each other. As the season unfolds we will find out how strong our bond to one another is. That is what makes being part of a team so special. Our coaching staff feels good about the type of kid we have. We had a great deal of fun this fall and I know our players are anxious to go out and play."

ON THE MOUND
When assessing the team after fall workouts, Holbrook points out the pitching staff will be one of the strengths. Despite the loss of All-America right-hander Braden Webb and right-hander Taylor Widener -- both of whom were drafted last season -- the Gamecocks may field as good a staff as any in the country. Junior right-handers Wil Crowe, Tyler Johnson and Clarke Schmidt are among the top pitching prospects for the 2017 MLB Draft and are expected to go in the early rounds and are All-America and All-SEC candidates. Senior left-hander Josh Reagan and senior right-hander Reed Scott have a combined 123 career appearances and can pitch in any role. Add to that sophomore right-hander Adam Hill, who was a Freshman All-American in 2016 and the excitement surrounding several newcomers, who will make an immediate impact.

"I think it all starts on the mound," said Holbrook. "We feel great about the experience we have out front in Wil Crowe, Clarke Schmidt, Adam Hill. We feel great about the depth and experience we have in the bullpen with Josh Reagan, Tyler Johnson, Reed Scott and Brandon Murray. And some of our new guys have shown great promise as well like Cody Morris, Sawyer Bridges, Colby Lee and Rian Haire."

The triumvirate of Schmidt, Crowe and Hill has experience pitching on the weekends and in the SEC. Schmidt and Crowe will both enter the preseason as the top two candidates to get the ball on Friday night. Schmidt was a third-team All-America selection last year and has drawn preseason All-America accolades as well. He won nine games last year and struck out 129 batters. That is the second-most of any college pitcher in the country returning for the 2017 season. Fresh off of Tommy John surgery, Crowe is back to the form that helped elevate him to the Friday night spot in the 2015 season and led to his 8-3 record when he was a Freshman All-American two years ago. Hill found his way into the weekend rotation last year and went 7-0. He is considered a top MLB Draft prospect for the 2018 season.

The back end of the bullpen figures to be led by Johnson, Reagan and Scott. All three made 29 appearances apiece and each figures to factor in again for the 2017 season. Johnson broke through in 2016 and showed dominance in SEC play and the postseason. Eight of Johnson's nine saves came in SEC play -- the most by any player in conference play -- and he also stood out for his first career complete game in his only start of the year in a 10-1 win over UNCW as the Gamecocks worked their way to a regional title. Johnson caught the eyes of many, which led him to a summer spot on USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team. Reagan's 11 overall saves ranked third in the SEC. He kept hitters at bay as well with opponents batting .172 against him. Scott won four games in relief and picked up two saves.

Redshirt freshman right-hander Cody Morris was the top high school prospect in the state of Maryland two years ago when Tommy John surgery cut his senior season at Reservoir HS short. Now with over a year of rehab behind him, Morris performed well in fall scrimmages and is expected to compete for a starting spot and significant innings in the 2017 season. An energized Brandon Murray showed progress in the fall as well. The junior right-hander is working towards substantial innings for the upcoming campaign. Junior left-hander John Parke is also back and will be off the mound again in January and should be ready to go for the season.

Don't be surprised to see a few newcomers on the hill with the game on the line as well. Freshman right-hander Sawyer Bridges led Summerville HS to a state title last year and he will be a power right-hander that will add to the depth, as will Colby Lee, who was the South Carolina Class A Player of the Year. He will show off a power arm from the right side. The coaching staff is also high on sophomore junior college transfer Graham Lawson, who had success in the fall. Freshmen left-handers Rian Haire and Jonathan Jahn had highly successful high school careers and look to earn innings also.

College baseball experts and professional scouts are excited with the level of talent on the mound in college baseball for the 2017 season. With the SEC the best college baseball conference in the country, success on the mound is imperative.

"In this league, there always is (high-level pitching)," noted Holbrook. "The SEC has always been loaded with front-line first round type pitchers. This year we have some pitchers that are highly thought of. That being said, that doesn't guarantee (anything). Where you are projected to be in the draft, where you projected to be in the preseason; that has no bearing on what type of season we are going to have. I think our players are mature enough to understand that with the schedule we have in front of us and the teams that we are going to play, we have to play at a high level each and every time we step out on the field if we want to have a special year."

"It is nice to know that we have some great kids in Wil Crowe, Clarke Schmidt, Tyler Johnson, Josh Reagan, Reed Scott, Adam Hill," added Holbrook. They are great kids, great character, talented, they have worked extremely hard and they have the makings to be the backbone of our team."

ON THE FIELD
Holbrook is excited with the position players that return and a group of newcomers that will give him options before he writes out the lineup card on Opening Day. Fall practice was spirited with several position battles highlighting the weekend scrimmages.

The Gamecocks do have some talent to replace with the departure of All-SEC outfielder Gene Cone, selected in the 10th round of the draft by the Mets and fifth-rounder outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams who went to the Yankees. Also gone are middle infield staples Marcus Mooney and DC Arendas. Still, there is plenty of talent eager to replace the departure of those four players.

"To have the type of year we want to have, we have to do a great job of supporting our pitchers," stated Holbrook. "We need to learn to be a great defensive team and we also need to be productive offensively. We have to be strong in all three areas to have a special year."

Experience and production shouldn't be a problem with the catching position. All three starters from last year return. Chris Cullen earned SEC All-Freshman in 2016 and was one of the team's top hitters in the fall. Cullen and junior catcher John Jones both gained valuable experience in the summer in the Cape Cod League. Jones broke out of the gates hot last year and is one of the team's top returning power hitters from last year when he belted seven homers and added 49 RBI. Junior catcher Hunter Taylor was also a key cog in the NCAA Regional as he earned All-Tournament Team honors.

"As we all know, that catching position is an important one and I couldn't feel better about our three guys behind the plate," said Holbrook. "Chris Cullen, John Jones and Hunter Taylor, are solid guys and great teammates. Cullen may be our most improved player from this time a year ago. All three have experience, maturity, and the ability to be terrific players."

Looking at the infield, the Gamecocks bring back junior third baseman Jonah Bride, who started in 63 of 64 games at the hot corner. Bride made just three errors the entire season and fielded .975 while producing at the plate with a .283 average and a .393 on-base percentage. The shortstop competition was under the microscope during the fall, but Holbrook has options returning with junior Madison Stokes and sophomore LT Tolbert. Both Stokes and Tolbert saw significant action last year at first base and second, but will now move to their more familiar spot in the middle infield. After missing the first half of the 2016 season due to an injury, Stokes emerged to be an important part of the lineup with a .304 batting average in 31 games. Stokes had a tremendous fall with 10 extra base hits including four homers and could hit in the middle of the lineup. Tolbert is coming off a SEC All-Freshman campaign and was solid in fall scrimmages as well. Junior Matt Williams caught Holbrook's eye at first base in the fall. Williams was South Carolina's third leading hitter of the fall behind Cullen and Stokes. The son of a coach, Williams figures to get the first crack at first base.

Several newcomers expect to compete for time in the middle infield. Sophomore utility player Jacob Olson showed promise during the fall slate and could see time either at an infield spot or in the outfield. The junior college transfer has versatility and a knack for getting on base. Freshman Carlos Cortes brings in a highly-touted bat. He also is versatile enough to play both the infield and outfield. Junior college transfers Justin Row and Chase DeMars have been solid additions and can factor in both the second base and shortstop competitions as well. Freshmen Riley Hogan and Joey Polak are newcomers that bring a physical approach to the plate. Both could see time at first. Holbrook has been pleased with the effort of the entire group as he looks toward the spring.

"As a team we still have a number of areas that we need to continue to improve upon," noted Holbrook. "We have great competition going on at shortstop. We obviously return Jonah (Bride) at third base and he played a great third base for us last year, but he needs to continue to improve as well. Some of the newcomers are pushing him. Carlos Cortes, Jacob Olson, Justin Row are newcomers that have pushed some of our returners and they certainly have the ability to be productive players. Madison Stokes and LT Tolbert are two returners that have shown great promise. They have neat chemistry between the two of them."

"We played good defense this fall, but playing good defense in the fall and playing good defense in the spring are two different things," added Holbrook. "I love the ability level of our infielders, but there will be some guys in new spots. How our infielders play defense is going to be crucial to the success of our team. That being said, I think the guys we are going to put out there are anxious to show they are very good infielders as well. Collectively with Stokes, Bride, and Tolbert leading the way I feel we have a gifted group. And guys like Olson and Cortes can certainly factor in as well."

The outfield could feature three veterans with junior Alex Destino back as well as the return of sophomores TJ Hopkins and Danny Blair. Destino figures to get the nod in left field, but is also an option as a designated hitter. Destino is a top 100 prospect for the 2017 MLB Draft and is looking to maintain power numbers, like the 10 homers and 59 RBI he produced last year to go along with a .509 slugging percentage. Hopkins made his way into the lineup as a freshman last year and is ready to make a jump in his sophomore campaign. The dynamic Hopkins hit .322 in his first year in the Garnet & Black. Both he and Blair are options in center field and right field and both are candidates in the leadoff spot.

"Our outfield situation will continue to evolve," said Holbrook. "I love how TJ Hopkins continues to develop. He is very athletic, explosive, much improved offensively, handles the bat well and he plays a great center and right field. Danny Blair is much improved. He is a gifted outfielder and if he is a high on-base percentage guy offensively, then he has a chance to be a special player. Alex Destino and Carlos Cortes are two offensive-minded guys that can play left field. They certainly can do a good job out there. We feel good about those two hitting the middle of our lineup. Jacob Olson is another guy -- I mentioned him with the infielders -- he is also very versatile and can play the outfield as well. We are going to need to find a place to get him some at bats because he certainly did some nice things for us this fall."

The lineup will continue to evolve as the spring season creeps closer. Still, there is considerable balance in what the Gamecocks can offer.

"Offensively it will be interesting to see how we evolve," said Holbrook. "We have a chance to be a balanced and athletic group, but there will be some new faces in there. Dom (Thompson-Williams) and Gene (Cone) were terrific for us a year ago. They gave our team an offensive identity. This year we return Destino, Jones, Bride, Hopkins, and Cullen - and I think they are much improved from a year ago. I also love the improvements Stokes and Tolbert have made. We certainly have a lot of confidence in Cortes and Olson as well. We have a lot of work to do but I'm optimistic that we have a chance to be a good offensive team."


 

 

 

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