With the preseason Top 25 college baseball polls out Monday morning, the South Carolina team might consider itself lucky.
The Gamecocks are ranked No. 7 by both Baseball America and Perfect Game, the two leading authorities on the national scene, but luck really has nothing to do with it. The high rankings shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given USC’s recent track record with three CWS appearances in the past four seasons, a period when the program won two national championships and compiled a sparkling 201-70 record.
The No. 7 ranking also means both media outlets consider South Carolina, which finished 43-20 last season, a prime contender for a berth in the eight-team College World Series in Omaha this June.
With seven position starters, nine pitchers and 18 letter-winners back from the 2013 team that lost in the deciding game of the NCAA Super Regional against North Carolina, it’s little wonder the Gamecocks are drawing this kind of positive attention once again, especially since Baseball America also placed this season’s class of newcomers No. 3 in the national recruiting rankings.
The seasoned club includes junior third baseman Joey Pankake (.311 BA, 11 HR, 42 RBIs), junior catcher Grayson Greiner (.298, 4 HR, 38 RBIs), junior center fielder Tanner English (.283, 1 HR, 25 RBIs, 9 SB), and sophomore second baseman Max Schrock (.282, 6 HR, 39 RBIs, 14 SB). Other key veterans are junior first baseman Kyle Martin and junior right-fielder Connor Bright.
Leading the pitching staff are a pair of left-handers -- junior Jordan Montgomery (6-1, 1.48 ERA) and sophomore Jack Wynkoop (7-3, 3.09 ERA).
If these players come up big again and the newcomers like pitcher Wil Crowe and outfielder Elliott Caldwell contribute in a meaningful way, this team also should contend for its third SEC East title since 2011. The biggest questions marks will be finding an everyday shortstop as well as a solid closer out of the bullpen.
ACC member Virginia is top-ranked in both preseason polls. Baseball America ranks eight SEC teams in its Top 25, while Perfect Game ranks seven.
The season begins Feb. 14 with a weekend series against Bucknell at Carolina Stadium.