South Carolina held its final preseason scrimmage on Saturday and is less than one week away from its season opener.
Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said afterward there are no nerves, only excitement, as USC prepares for Opening Day against Albany on Friday.
“We’re ready to go. We’re ready to play,” Holbrook said. “Anytime you get close to Opening Day, the juices get going a little bit more than normal. Opening Day’s exciting. It’s starting a new season and a new team. There’s a lot of excitement going on in our stadium, our locker room, out here on the practice field right now.”
Carolina has a few position players that will almost assuredly be in the lineup to start the season, including Alex Destino, Marcus Mooney and Dom Thompson-Williams, but several moves will be made based on how well players perform during practices this week.
“We’re getting ready for game mode,” Holbrook said. “We need to have a good week of practice this week, and we’ll certainly determine some tough decisions we’re going to make based on who we’re going to start on Friday. But who we’re going to start on Friday very rarely is who we’re starting on Game 56.”
ROTATION TAKING SHAPE
USC is not ready to announce a starting rotation yet other than to say Clarke Schmidt will probably get the ball on Friday, but it appears likely that freshman Braden Webb and junior Taylor Widener will start the season in the weekend rotation as well.
Webb struggled with his command during Friday’s scrimmage, walking four batters, but Holbrook said he has full confidence in the righty.
“I’m glad he got it out of the way to be honest with you,” Holbrook said. “We’re ready to give the ball to Braden and give him an opportunity. He’s got a great arm, an SEC weekend type arm. So we’re ready to see what he can do, and we’re certainly going to give him the ball.”
Widener didn’t allow a hit in four shutout innings of work on Saturday. Freshman Adam Hill also pitched well Saturday, making only one mistake as he allowed a home run to fellow freshman LT Tolbert.
“I loved what I saw out of Taylor Widener and Adam Hill today,” Holbrook said. “That was very, very impressive and very encouraging. I like the depth of our pitching staff with the way some guys have thrown.”
Tolbert continued to make his case for a spot in the Opening Day lineup, going 4-for-4 with a solo home run on Saturday. He added a RBI single as he accounted for two of Garnet’s three runs.
Holbrook said Tolbert has been impressive since the start of preseason scrimmages in January. His background is at shortstop, but he can play several positions, including first base.
“We’ve got to find him a place to play. The fact that he’s versatile is going to give him some opportunities. He’s one individual, from a position player standpoint, that’s really, really had a great January and great early February,” Holbrook said. “He has clearly shown that he’s one of our better players, and I’m gonna play my best players.”
BULLPEN ROLES TO BE DETERMINED
The Gamecocks are likely to use a closer-by-committee strategy to start the season as Holbrook works to find the best option.
Holbrook said he has confidence in several pitchers to get the job done and he loves Carolina’s depth, specifically mentioning Reed Scott and Josh Reagan as pitchers he feels comfortable bringing in late in the game.
“Our bullpen situation’s a good one. We’ve got a number of guys that we can use in the bullpen,” Holbrook said. “I don’t know which ones are going to get the last three outs at this time. If the bases are loaded in the seventh and we’re up two runs we might go to our best guy then early in the year.”