Since last fall, the staff ace for South Carolina baseball has been clear: Adam Hill.
Hill was the top MLB prospect, the one with the most experience returning, the one who had all the pitches to overpower opposing hitters.
But over the past month, as the Gamecocks have charged to the NCAA tournament Super Regionals, the team's best pitcher hasn't been Hill. It's been sophomore Cody Morris.
So said coach Mark Kingston on Sunday after Morris won his third consecutive game to even the series with Arkansas and move USC within one win of the College World Series.
'He's matured. He's become a competitor as this season has worn on. Early in this season, I think he was trying to find his way and about halfway through he did. He found that confidence, he found that poise that you need to win big games," Kingston said. "He's been our best guy here down the stretch. Real impressed with him, real happy for him."
Morris' stat line against Arkansas wasn't exactly historic — five innings, four hits, one unearned run, one walk, four strikeouts. But after Hill turned in a shaky performance Saturday, it was just what the Gamecocks needed, and it came despite the fact that Morris spent most of the past week feeling poorly.
"Haven't been feeling great all week and stuff, but just went out there and did my best ... I've just been sore and stuff, just late in the year, just wear and stuff," Morris said.
Morris also said he was lacking his best stuff Sunday, which limited his ability to go deep into the game. He was at 89 pitches before being replaced — Kingston said afterward that a lengthy half-inning for the Gamecocks, combined with a desire to give the bullpen a full inning of work, led to his decision to pull Morris.
"I didn't think I had great fastball velocity, but I commanded it for the most part and my change-up was pretty good for the most part and I was able to keep them off-balance," Morris said. "They put together some good at-bats and fouled off some pitches, definitely hindering my ability to go deeper. Obviously I wish I could've."
But Kingston was more than satisfied with the performance, especially building off Morris' effort in the NCAA regional against host East Carolina, when he went seven innings and gave up two runs.
Over his past four starts, Morris is 3-0 with a 0.68 ERA, after going more than a month without winning a game. What's changed for the seventh-round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians has less to do with mechanics or velocity and more to do with effort, he said.
"I don't know how to describe it. It's just a mentality of just going out there and giving everything you have," he said. "Not that I wasn't before, but there's always just a little extra you can give, and I've found a way to channel that and give it out there."
And on Sunday, he sounded optimistic that he'd be able to do so again for the Gamecocks — in Omaha.
"I'll be good and I'll bounce back for the next start hopefully," he said.