South Carolina’s 2018 baseball season will start shortly. If new head coach Mark Kingston gets his wish, it’ll be over before fans know it.
“When you’re playing really well, (the season) goes fast,” Kingston said Monday after his team finished its sixth of nine preseason intrasquad scrimmages. “Last year, we had a 19-game winning streak, and it went fast. There are other times when you’re laboring or you’re struggling a little bit and the season seems to crawl by. A lot of it has to do with the kind of success you are having.”
That 19-game winning streak came at South Florida, where Kingston was before being hired by Ray Tanner to take over a Gamecocks program that had a very long 2017 season. South Carolina finished 35-25 overall and 13-17 in the SEC and out of the national postseason, leading to Chad Holbrook’s departure and Kingston’s hiring.
Kingston has 11 days left to get his new club ready to play VMI in the season opener on Feb. 16 at Founders Park. The Gamecocks aren’t expected to get back to Omaha in Kingston’s first season, at least not by many outside the program. South Carolina was only placed in the preseason Top 25 by one of the sport’s four major polls.
“I don’t know what the outside expectations are,” Kingston said. “I think there are some fans that probably want us to win the national championship this year. There are some that want us to get to a regional. It’s hard to say. I know our expectations are to be the absolute best we can be and if that means we go to a regional or a Super or Omaha, we will live with that. Our expectations are that we just max this thing out this year.”
That will mean restoring the team’s and the program’s confidence level.
“Confidence is very important, but confidence has to be earned,” Kingston said. “You don’t just create confidence out of thin air. You have to work for it. You have to earn it through your preparation and how you perform on the field.”
And that can be done on chilly February nights even if you are only playing your own teammates, Kingston said.
“This is a tough game, so whether it’s a game against an opponent, whether it’s an intrasquad game, this is a hard game. A 90 mph fastball doesn’t know if it’s an intrasquad or a real game, so when you’re a hitter and you’ve been working to hit that pitch and you hit it in the gap, you earn confidence with that. I think you gain just as much confidence out here against our guys as we would against an opponent.”