They aren’t exactly the Tigers South Carolina fans really love to beat, but on Friday night, the Gamecock baseball team rolled past them all the same, recording a series-opening 7-2 win against Princeton at Founders Park.
USC (9-5) scored in a variety of ways against the Tigers (0-5), ranging from a wild pitch and throwing error in the first inning to a two-run home run from senior first baseman Matt Williams in the eighth. All told, South Carolina collected nine hits and four walks, leaving just five runners on base.
“We want to be a power team, but we also want to give really good at-bats with two strikes,” head coach Mark Kingston said of the Gamecocks’ multi-faceted attack. “We did that tonight, had some good two-strike RBIs. We had the one homer, but we had five extra base hits and to me, that’s where you want your offense to look like. It’s dangerous. You make a mistake, it can hit a ball in the gap or out of the park, but we’ll also battle with two strikes.”
Three South Carolina players had multi-hit games: center fielder TJ Hopkins, designated hitter Noah Campbell and third baseman Jonah Bride, who now has a five-game hit streak and is 4-6 in the last two games.
“His swing was getting a little bit too loopy there for a while there, but he’s raised his hands in his stance, which has allowed him to get a little bit better path to the baseball, and he had some really good two-strike at-bats too. Really like where he is,” Kingston said of Bride.
On the mound, a rocky first inning gave way to another smooth outing for Adam Hill, who struck out nine and gave up two hits and one run in five innings, picking up his second win of the year and lowering his ERA to 3.91.
“He wasn’t quite as sharp tonight, but I thought he really powered through it,” Kingston said of his star pitcher. “He didn’t have quite the stuff, but Friday night guys need to find a way to get through it, and he did, and he gave us five good innings. ... Just gave us a good, workmanlike, performance.”
The deficit didn’t last long, as Campbell skied a fly ball to shallow left field that dropped in for a double, then sprinted home on a wild pitch and errant throw from the catcher as he advanced to third.
“Speed is one of my strengths, so I just try to be aggressive on the bases, try to create stuff” Campbell said. “Because I know running and being aggressive is going to put a lot of pressure on the defense, and hopefully they do, like they did tonight.”
Freshman left-hander John Gilreath replaced Hill at the rubber in the sixth inning and finished off the game, going four innings and striking out eight. The early enrollee now has a 3.32 ERA in 19 innings pitched, second most on the team, while fanning 23 batters.
“John is one of the more impressive pitchers we have on this team,” Hill said of his teammate. “He’s supposed to be in high school and he comes out here and he dominates. He’s got great stuff, he attacks the zone and he competes. I’m really impressed with him.”
Star of the game: Hopkins, who went 2-3 with a walk, two runs and the game-winning RBI in the third inning. He blasted two balls to the right-center field gap for a double and triple.
“He took swings tonight like we want to see him take,” Kingston said of the junior. “He really drove the ball to right-center, and it’s fun to watch him run the bases once that ball is in the gap. ... That kind of night is something he has to build on.”
Play of the game: In the top of the eighth with one out, Princeton loaded the bases on freshman John Gilreath. With the tying run at the plate, the rookie pitched his way out of trouble, inducing a soft grounder that scored one, then striking out the next batter to preserve the lead and quash any thoughts of a late rally.
Stat of the game: 17.5 strikeouts per nine innings for Adam Hill over his past three starts. He also has a 1.42 ERA in that span and has allowed just four hits in 19 innings, but it’s been his ability to fan hitters that’s really made him so dominant.
Who: South Carolina (9-5) vs. Princeton (0-5), Games 2 and 3
When: 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Founders Park
Probable Pitchers: Game 2: South Carolina’s Cody Morris, So. RHP (2-1 4.50 ERA) vs. Princeton’s Ryan Smith, Jr. LHP (0-0, 3.86 ERA)
Game 3: South Carolina’s TBA vs. Princeton’s James Proctor, So. RHP (0-0, 6.75 ERA)
Watch: Steaming online on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN app
Listen: 107.5 FM in Columbia, South Carolina, Gamecock Radio Network elsewhere