South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook believes TJ Hopkins has a chance to be a difference-maker for the Gamecocks in 2017. The sophomore certainly was Friday night.
Hopkins went 3-for-4 with two doubles, two runs scored and two RBIs to lead USC to a 7-1 victory over UNC-Greensboro on Opening Day at Founders Park.
“I was seeing it well today,” Hopkins said. “The first pitcher was throwing a lot of off-speed pitches, so I was just looking to go the other way and I had some balls fall for me.”
Batting leadoff, Hopkins opened the bottom of the first with a double, before singling in the third and driving in two runs with a double to right-center in the fourth.
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Hopkins lined out to third base in the sixth inning before being pinch-hit for in the eighth.
“He was terrific. He set the tone for the whole game with his first swing,” Holbrook said. “He’s an electric player. There aren’t many kids more talented than TJ Hopkins as far as how he can run, his swing, what he can do when he’s on the bases, and he’s got some power. He’s a special player. ... He’s a much more polished player this year than he was last.”
South Carolina DH Alex Destino went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs against UNCG.
After facing USC’s loaded pitching staff all preseason the junior said it was nice to watch Gamecocks ace Clarke Schmidt from the dugout instead of facing him in the batter’s box.
Schmidt and Carolina’s Saturday starter, Wil Crowe, could be first-round picks in the 2017 MLB draft.
“I was fired up not having to face Clarke Schmidt. I’ve been facing him for the past four months. It’s nice not having to go out there and face him or Crowe,” Destino said. “Honestly those changeups looked really, really slow today compared to what I’ve been facing with some of our guys.”
UNCG left fielder Dillon Stewart homered off Schmidt in the fourth inning and took his time with his trot around the bases, according to USC’s pitcher.
Schmidt retired 11 of the next 12 batters he faced, only allowing a bunt single following Stewart’s home run. Stewart finished 1-for-4 and popped out to right field his next at bat.
“After he hit the home run, the guy kind of took a little longer jog than usual, I’d like to say,” Schmidt recalled. “The second time I went through the lineup and I got to face him again, I kind of amped up on a couple. Anything like that’s going to fire you up. You’ve got a lot of adrenaline running when you’re out there. So, something small like that can pump you up a little bit.”
MIXING IT UP
Newcomers Jacob Olson, Carlos Cortes and Riley Hogan made their debuts with the Gamecocks on Friday with Olson earning the start in right field and going 2-for-3 with a run scored.
Cortes and Hogan pinch-hit in the eighth inning, but neither recorded a hit.
More newcomers could be in the starting lineup for Game 2 on Saturday afternoon.
“We’ve got some good players that sat on the bench today and deserve a chance to play,” Holbrook said. “I’m going to play some guys early in the year to see if we can get in a rhythm and see who can do what against another team.”