Freshman dazzles with hitless debut as Gamecocks sweep opening series

nwhite@thestate.comFebruary 16, 2014 

Freshman Wil Crowe started on the mound Sunday for the Gamecocks' final matchup of the weekend against Bucknell. The right-hander held Bucknell to hitless through the 6 1/3 innings he pitched.

C MICHAEL BERGEN — mbergen@thestate.com

South Carolina hitters pounded Bucknell’s pitching for the third consecutive game, but the real story Sunday afternoon was the guy standing on the mound for the Gamecocks.

In his first collegiate start, freshman right-hander Wil Crowe dazzled the Bison with 6 1/3 hitless shutout innings at Carolina Stadium in No. 7 USC’s 12-0 victory.

“It was certainly impressive to sit over there in the dugout and watch,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “He had command of all of his pitches and threw the ball very well.”

The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Crowe, a Sevierville, Tenn., native, gave a near-flawless performance as he walked one batter and hit one while striking out five to claim his first career victory. He came out after throwing 76 pitches due to an early season pitch count.

“It felt good to get out there for the first time. I just wanted to do my best and help the team win,” Crowe said. “I wanted to throw strikes and command the zone and not have to worry that much.”

Crowe, one of the nation’s top high school pitchers last year, made sure nobody had to worry. He retired the final 13 batters that he faced.

“He has a mentality and a presence about him that exudes confidence,” Holbrook said. “He had it when we saw him pitch in high school, and he’s had it since he stepped on campus. The kid believes in himself. You hate to put expectations on a young kid, but when we recruited him, we thought he had the chance to be a special pitcher here.”

Crowe settled in with his low 90s fastball and precise off-speed pitches after working off his early butterflies.

“I definitely didn’t think I was going to throw that well,” he said.

He received plenty of support from his veteran teammates. Junior first baseman Kyle Martin led the 17-hit attack with four hits, while sophomore second baseman Max Schrock hit a three-run homer, junior catcher Grayson Greiner blasted a two-run shot, and junior left-fielder Joey Pankake, who had three hits, drilled a solo home run.

Martin wasn’t surprised that Crowe worked his magic.

“In the fall and the spring, he always had great command and good control,” Martin said. “He’s always been a competitor. He’s a great pitcher.”

Schrock, whose three-run shot to right field in the fifth inning off Bucknell starter Andrew Andreychik gave USC a 6-0 lead, loves playing behind Crowe, too.

“The word I like to use for Wil is bulldog. And he’s going to continue to be a bulldog for our team,” Schrock said.

Bucknell’s lone hit came in the seventh inning two batters after Crowe exited, when Sam Clark singled off freshman left-hander Josh Reagan. The Gamecocks, who outscored the Bison 41-6 on the weekend, never let up on offense. The veteran lineup banged out 39 hits – 10 doubles, a triple and four homers while working 21 walks.

“I feel like one through nine can hit any pitch at any time,” said Martin, whose batting average stands at .779. “They can hit for power, they can hit gap to gap, they can do whatever they need to do. We’ve focused a lot more on getting runners on, getting them over, and getting them in. We’ve done a great job of that so far.”

Schrock hopes the hitters keep the runs coming in bunches.

“It’s boosting our hitters’ confidence, and that’s always good,” Schrock said. “We’ll just take that into our game on Tuesday and into next weekend.”

USC (3-0) will play host to Presbyterian on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Carolina Stadium.

Holbrook couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the first series of the season.

“We swung the bats well and put some really good swings on it. We played really good defense behind Wil and the rest of our pitchers. It was just a really clean game,” he said. “We pride ourselves on trying to play the best game of the weekend on Sunday, and I think we did that.”

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