The scoring at Founders Park on Wednesday started in the second inning with back-to-back singles for South Carolina baseball.
The fireworks started an inning later when Gamecock senior catcher Hunter Taylor launched a grand slam home run into left field, giving USC an 8-0 lead over in-state foe Winthrop that would eventually expand to 15-2 for the biggest win of the year for South Carolina (4-1).
The majority of the offensive firepower Wednesday came from the bottom third of the lineup, as junior shortstop LT Tolbert, senior second baseman Justin Row and Taylor, the Nos. 7, 8 and 9 hitters, combined to go 7-11 with 11 RBIs. Tolbert also added a two-run home run in the eighth, blasting a shot beyond the right-field bullpen.
“We take a lot of pride in the work that we did this offseason and all the new technology that we had to make some small adjustments to our swings that would help us start to develop that power that a lot of us are showing right now,” Tolbert said.
With the huge lead, South Carolina coach Mark Kingston was able to use six substitutions, emptying his bench and getting reserves valuable playing time, he said.
“One of the things that, as a coach, you struggle with is having to disappoint kids that don’t get to play,” Kingston said. “So to have a game where you get to get everybody in the lineup and try to get as many guys at-bats as possible ... it’s good to get guys out there on the field just to get a feel for that. And absolutely the morale of the team is better when everyone feels like they’re a part of it.”
Star of the game: Senior catcher Hunter Taylor. Two bases-loaded situations for Taylor, two positive outcomes. In the bottom of the third inning, Taylor mashed his grand slam. In the bottom of the sixth, he drew an easy walk to score one more. His five RBIs were a career high, and he added a nice pickoff in the fifth inning to eliminate a baserunner.
“I had a pretty at-bat my first at-bat, and the next at-bat I just went up there and didn’t really think,” Taylor said of his grand slam. “I believe it was first pitch, a fastball a little bit up, and I just tried to hit it hard.”
Play of the game: See the grand slam above. Taylor’s long ball with two outs busted the game wide open, turning it from a 4-0 contest in which Winthrop could conceivably rally into a rout and the biggest offensive outburst of the year for USC.
Stat of the game: .444. After a dreadful start to the year hitting with runners in scoring position, USC had its first really good game of the season in that department, going 8-18 and leaving just seven runners on base.
Justin Row impresses: Though the senior second baseman had to leave the game early with an injury, he impressed through three at-bats with three hits and two RBIs, both of which tied career highs. After the game, both he and Kingston said his removal was a cautious response after he tweaked his hamstring slightly.
“I feel pretty good. It was just kind of a precautionary thing,” Row said. “It just tightened up on me, and we don’t want it to get any worse.”
Bullpen holds, but stretched thin already: Freshman Logan Chapman pitched into the fourth inning, giving up two runs on three hits and striking out four. For a young pitcher, it wasn’t the worst outing possible, but it did force South Carolina to throw five relievers. Through five games, USC’s starters have pitched just 21 2/3 innings, while the bullpen has thrown 23 1/3.
“It took (Chapman) 69 pitches to get nine outs. That’s too many,” Kingston said. “He’ll be better, but he’s a young guy, still trying to get his sea legs here.”
What: South Carolina vs. Charleston Southern
When: 4 p.m.. Friday, Feb. 23
Where: Founders Park
Probable pitchers: USC – Adam Hill (Jr. RHP); Charleston Southern – Nik Constantakos (So. LHP)
Watch: Streaming on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN app
Radio: 107.5 FM