Wil Crowe’s 22-month journey back from Tommy John surgery to pitching for South Carolina is finally complete.
The junior made his much-anticipated return to the mound for the Gamecocks Saturday against UNC Greensboro and threw five shutout innings to lead USC (2-0) to a 5-1 win over the Spartans (0-2) in front of a sold out crowd of 8,242 fans at Founders Park.
Crowe, who hadn’t pitched for USC since April 10, 2015, struck out seven batters while allowing three hits with one walk. He retired the final nine batters he faced before giving way to Reed Scott.
“I’m just glad to be back out here and wearing the Gamecock uniform,” Crowe said. “The last 22 months have been tough, but I was able to believe in the lord and believe in everything I’ve done and trust it and come out here and have some fun.”
Crowe (1-0) allowed two singles in the first inning and a single in the second before finding his groove.
After walking a batter to lead off the third, he didn’t allow another base runner. He struck out the side in the fourth inning and threw 82 pitches on the afternoon, earning his first win since March 13, 2015.
“The first two innings, I think I was still kind of on some jitters and some emotions,” Crowe said. “After that, I think I really settled in and started throwing my pitches well and being able to get guys out.”
Scott picked up where Crowe left off, retiring the first six batters he faced.
The senior earned his first save of the season, pitching four innings while allowing two hits. The only run UNCG scored was unearned.
“The name of the game was how we pitched. Wil was terrific. Reed was terrific. We made some pretty good defensive plays behind them as well,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said. “When we pitch like that and play defense it’s hard to score on us, and that’s what we did today.”
The fourth-ranked Gamecocks took a 1-0 lead in the third inning when TJ Hopkins scored from second on an RBI single by junior college transfer Justin Row.
USC added to its lead with three runs in the fifth inning as Danny Blair singled to right to score Jacob Olson, and later in the frame Blair and Jonah Bride scored on Alex Destino’s two-run single to left-center.
“The guy I was facing, he’s one of my best friends. I faced him for four years in high school,” Destino said of UNCG starter Bryce Hensley. “I was hanging out with him in the hotel for hours the day they got here. It’s my job to drive guys in. The bases were loaded with two outs so I kind of spread out and just battled.”
Highly-touted freshman Carlos Cortes finished the scoring for USC with an RBI single to right in the eighth, his first hit as a Gamecock, to score Chris Cullen.
Blair, Destino and Olson each had multi-hit games for the second day in a row. Blair finished 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI. Destino went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, while Olson was 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored.
Olson, who is hitting seventh, and Blair, batting ninth, have combined to go 9-for-13 with four runs scored and two RBIs through two games.
“They played their tails off. We’ve won some games and we’ve scored some runs without Cullen and (Madison) Stokes getting a lot of hits and producing some runs, and they’re middle-of-the-lineup type guys for us,” Holbrook said. “Olson and Blair and TJ (Hopkins) yesterday have kind of picked up the slack. Jacob has an attitude about him that I love having in the lineup. He’s a very confident player and believes in himself and I’m glad he’s here.”
UNCG got on the board in the ninth inning on a sac fly by Michael Goss.
The teams will conclude the three-game series Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. at Founders Park.