As the baseball chopped slowly toward Cody Morris in front of the mound, Noah Campbell was already halfway down the first base line, foreshadowing what became the shortest hit in the six-inning scrimmage. An hour later, Campbell launched the longest knock of the evening.
South Carolina is nearing the end of its fall season. Wednesday’s game – a 7-3 win for the Black team – was the opener to the annual Garnet and Black World Series that will conclude Friday at Founders Park.
First-year Gamecocks coach Mark Kingston will make his official debut in February, beginning a 2018 season that USC fans want lasting into June. But what new faces will Kingston be taking on the ride with him?
Campbell went 2-for-4 Wednesday with a home run and two runs scored. The freshman showed his athleticism in the third inning with a swinging bunt single, a steal of second base, a successful tag up to third and an easy jog home on Chris Cullen’s traditional single to center field.
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In the sixth, Campbell took his classmate Cam Tringali for a solo shot that rattled the set of palm trees well beyond the right field wall.
“Noah’s an elite player – not just for a freshman,” Kingston said. “Noah’s an elite player. I talk about it all the time, my preference to have speed and power. When you can get both in the same place, that’s pretty special.
“He’s a special kid from a talent standpoint. He’s a straight-A student. He’s the total package. If he continues to do what he’s doing, as he gets stronger, he’ll be one of the best players in the country.”
Campbell is part of a recruiting class ranked fifth by Baseball America, South Carolina’s highest-rated bunch of newcomers in four years.
Campbell comes as, perhaps, the most touted. The middle infielder was BA’s No. 111 overall prospect for last June’s draft. He turned down the Milwaukee Brewers, who selected him in the 19th round, for the Gamecocks. The Raleigh, North Carolina, native announced such a decision June 14. Kingston was hired from South Florida two weeks later.
“He’s a special player,” Kingston said. “He’s the kind of player you build your program around. And he’s a big part of our future, but he’s a big part of our present as well.”
Campbell played second base for the Black team Wednesday. Junior Jacob Olson started at second for the Garnet. Olson, a reigning Cape Cod League All-Star, started in right field last season.
Senior shortstop Madison Stokes, an A.C. Flora product, went 3-for-3 with a home run, double and four RBIs on Wednesday.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that can play in the middle for us,” Kingston said. “I’m not going to rush to judgment to name who our starting middle infielders are. I think we’ve got a lot of guys that are capable. So we may have to carry (naming starters) into November, into December, into January and into early February because we’ve got a lot of guys that can get the job done.”
Between both lineups Wednesday, Kingston started six freshmen. Rookie right-hander Logan Chapman., throwing for the Black, allowed two runs on three hits in three innings.
“He’s right in the mix to be considered a weekend starter, as high as Saturday potentially,” Kingston said of Chapman. “He’s talented, he’s very mature for his age and he’s got a good mound presence. He’s right in the mix to be a weekend starter.”
Kingston at USF in 2015 put together Baseball America’s No. 8 recruiting class. Two springs later, the Bulls won 42 games and advanced to an NCAA regional.
“I’m a big believer that if a guy’s ready to play, he’s ready to play,” Kingston said. “I really don’t care about the age, I don’t care about the class. If a guy’s one of our best nine hitters, he’ll be in the lineup. If he’s one of our best pitchers, he’ll pitch.
“I don’t mind being young. If you’re good enough to play, you’ll play. Period.”