South Carolina junior Clarke Schmidt earned the Opening Day start for a loaded Gamecocks pitching staff. He showed why Friday evening against UNC-Greensboro.
Schmidt held the Spartans to three hits and one run in 6 2/3 innings of work as No. 4 USC (1-0) opened its season with a 7-1 victory over UNCG (0-1) at Founders Park.
The Gamecocks scored two runs in the first inning and never looked back in front of a sellout crowd of 8,242 fans.
“It was obviously a good Opening Day win for us,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “We played a clean game. Clarke was terrific. ... We have to be at the top of our game to have a successful weekend, and we got off to a good start tonight.”
The only run Schmidt allowed came on a solo home run by Spartans left fielder Dillon Stewart in the fourth inning. Schmidt retired 11 of the final 12 batters he faced after giving up the homer, allowing a bunt single during that time.
Schmidt recorded 12 groundball outs with three strikeouts and two walks while throwing 81 pitches. His defense played error-free baseball behind him.
“For me personally it’s an honor to go out there on Opening Day and be able to pitch,” Schmidt said. “It’s one of my goals, like I said in the offseason, to be able to come out here on Opening Day and get the start. To be able to get the nod and come out with a win I’m very blessed.”
TJ Hopkins led the way for Carolina at the plate, going 3-for-4 with two doubles, two runs and two RBIs. He doubled in USC’s first at-bat of the season and scored later in the first inning on a single by Alex Destino, who also scored in the inning on a wild pitch.
After Stewart’s home run in the top of the fourth the Gamecocks responded with four runs in the bottom half of the inning to take control.
Danny Blair drove in a run with a single to right, Hopkins followed with his second double of the day to score two and Destino added an RBI double.
“I liked the way our team responded after they hit the home run and cut it to 2-1,” Holbrook said. “I think we responded with four runs in the next half inning. That was a big moment for our team, a big moment in the game.”
USC added a run in the fifth inning when Matt Williams scored on a wild pitch.
Destino finished 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, while sophomores Jacob Olson and Danny Blair also had two hits.
“Obviously our pitching staff’s been getting a lot of credit, which they deserve. ... But I think our offense kind of surprised us a little bit,” Destino said. “We were clicking on all cylinders for the most part so that was good to see.”
The Gamecocks outhit UNC-Greensboro 11-4 and finished with three extra-base hits. Blair and Olson each had a stolen base.
Colie Bowers replaced Schmidt and pitched exceptionally well, allowing one hit in 2 1/3 innings while striking out the first four batters he faced. He gave up one hit.
“He threw strikes and worked ahead in the count. When he works ahead he’s awfully tough because that changeup can spin some kids in the ground it’s such a good pitch,” Holbrook said. “But he’s got to be in counts where he can throw it. He certainly was ahead today and threw the ball extremely well.”
NEXT: Game 2 of the series is 2 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network Plus).