On a brisk Wedneday night at Founders Field with only a couple hundred fans in the stands, South Carolina baseball looked primed to repeat its embarassing performance from the last midweek game, a loss to lowly Furman.
Tied 1-1 with North Carolina A&T after four innings with just two hits, USC’s offense looked like the anemic attack the Gamecocks showcased in its first two games against Clemson this past weekend.
Head coach Mark Kingston credited Aggie pitcher Jonah Owenby for keeping his hitters in check. The senior left-hander never threw that hard, but his unusual delivery and sharp offspeed pitches bamboozled the Gamecocks.
“That guy that they threw today was just real, real funky,” Kingston said. “He keeps you off-balance, and he knows how to pitch.”
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Meanwhile, freshman starter Logan Chapman was throwing quality pitches but could not stop getting into jams.
“The thing I liked a lot about Logan tonight was when he got in trouble, like he did a few times, he pitched his way out of it. ... For him to take the next step, you want him to dominate the entire inning so you look up and he’s not having to pitch his way out of that many jams,” Kingston said.
But once the two teams turned to their bullpens, the things changed dramatically, as South Carolina (8-5) pounded out an 12-2 win on the back of a season-high tying 11 walks and 13 hits, while A&T was mostly stymied by Gamecock relievers.
In particular, freshman right-hander TJ Shook came in directly after Chapman gave up his first run in the fourth inning and got a key strikeout to strand runners on first and second. Shook then pitched two more scoreless innings for his first win in collegiate play.
“I’ve been very impressed with TJ,” Kingston said. “I think he’s taken that next step ... he really commands the bottom of the zone, maybe as well as anyone we have. His fastball is up in that 90, 91 range, and he throws a lot of balls at the knees, and that makes you a valuable pitcher at this level.”
In the sixth and seventh innings, USC scored nine runs, blowing the game wide open with help from North Carolina A&T, who had two wild pitches, a passed ball and an error in the contest. Seven Gamecocks drew walks and 10 collected hits, including multi-hit efforts from LT Tolbert, Madison Sokes and Jonah Bride, who combined to account for six RBIs.
“When we really started putting runs up, Coach kept stressing to us that we’re getting that swagger back, and that’s very exciting for us that we continue to score runs. We just need to be aggressive every inning like that,” Bride said.
Star of the game: Bride, who went 2-3 at the plate with two RBIs and two walks. He drove in the game-winning score in the fifth, and on defense, he threw out a runner at the plate in the fourth inning to limit the damage and spark the team.
“After we got that one guy out, I thought our approach became much better, and really everybody was taking a good at-bat up there,” Bride said of the play’s impact.
Play of the game: Stokes’s two-RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning made the score 5-1 and marked the turning point in the game from way too close affair against an inferior opponent into a deluge of offense, peaking with a six-run seventh inning.
Stat of the game: 6-16, the Gamecocks’ stats at the plate with runners in scoring position, an area where they struggled against Clemson.
“Our record is what it is right now mostly because we need to continue to do a better job with runners in scoring position,” Kingston said. “We’ve had runners on base all year ... we just need to get better at executing better at-bats with runners in scoring position, and tonight we did that.”
What: South Carolina (7-5) vs. Princeton (0-4), Game 1
When: 7 p.m., Friday, March 9
Where: Founders Park, Columbia, South Carolina
Probable pitchers: South Carolina’s Adam Hill, Jr. RHP (1-1, 4.50 ERA) vs. Princeton’s Ben Gross, Sr. RHP (0-1, 21.00 ERA)
Watch: Streaming online on SEC Network Plus via the WatchESPN app
Listen: 107.5 FM in Columbia, South Carolina