Shon Carson and Ahmad Christian have a lot in common.
Both are South Carolina football signees who also plan to play baseball for the Gamecocks. They also have similar playing styles: both are standouts at shortstop and center field, and are lightning on the base paths.
They also both encountered a similar stance from the opposition this year. Neither got many pitches to hit. Last week, Christian’s prep coach said, “He hit .350 and had to earn every bit of that.”
Carson, the standout running back from Lake City, has experienced that kind of frustration, too, according to Panthers coach Matt Apicella.
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“For Shon Carson it’s been a cold season,” Apicella said. “But I guess it’s still pretty good when you’re hitting over .400 and people are telling you that you’re in a slump. His power numbers aren’t where they have been. That’s a combination of people not throwing to him and throwing around him, but he is hitting .411.”
Carson had also scored nearly 30 runs and stolen nearly 30 bases before opening play in the Class AA playoffs last week. The Panthers (13-7), who won their District VII opener before losing to Hanahan on Saturday, host Wade Hampton on Monday night in an elimination game.
Carson seemed to break out of his slump in the opening win over Aynor, when he went 3-for-3 with a home run, a double and three RBIs. However, he went 0-for-3 and struck out three times against Hanahan starter Bret Hines, who had 12 strikeouts.
Hines went after Carson, but many teams this year haven’t been willing to take that chance, choosing instead to force his teammates to beat them. That’s probably a wise choice considering what he had done in his career.
Carson had 38 home runs, 100-plus RBIs and more than 160 steals heading into his senior campaign, earning him a place in a the prestigious Under Armour All-America Baseball Game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field last summer.
The opposition’s tactics frustrated Carson early in the season, but Apicella said he’s adjusted as the year has progressed.
“He realized what the situation was and he’s found other ways to help,” said Apicella, whose team won a region title this year. “He’s always been a team player. He’s been dominant on the hill this year. He’s had a great year pitching. He just wants to win.
“He’s just pounded the strike zone and his curveball has really come around this year. He’s used that to his advantage. His fastball is in the mid-80s, so with him being able to throw that second pitch, he’s really able to keep people off balance.”
Carson is Lake City’s No. 1 starter. He’s pitched for the Panthers throughout his career, but he developed into a solid starter in 2010 and has been nearly unhittable this season. Heading into the postseason he had a 6-1 record and a -.78 ERA, striking out 75 batters and walking just seven in 45 innings.
He doesn’t figure to pitch after his prep career is over, however. Carson could end up in the outfield or at one of the middle infield positions for the Gamecocks. Or he might not end up in Columbia at all depending on what happens in this summer’s MLB Draft.
“Earlier in the year [the pressure impacted] him,” Apicella said. “When you start seeing 12 or 13 scouts out here, your eyes get kind of big. But after the first couple weeks of the season he really settled in.”