For the fifth time in the six seasons at Carolina Stadium, the South Carolina baseball team swept its opening series.
But the dismantling of Bucknell by a combined score of 41-6 surpassed what the Gamecocks had done in previous seasons against the likes of Duquesne, Santa Clara and VMI, which left everyone with a couple of questions.
Is South Carolina really that good? Or is Bucknell simply in for a really long season? Maybe it’s both.
The Gamecocks moved up two spots to No. 5 this week in the Baseball America Top 25 after steamrolling the Bison.
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The defense made only one error on a dropped fly ball in center field. The starting pitchers, Jordan Montgomery, Jack Wynkoop and Wil Crowe, threw well, especially the freshman Crowe in his collegiate debut. Nine relievers combined to finish off the three games, and only one of them allowed any runs.
The offense banged out 39 hits, including 10 doubles and four homers, for a .368 average, with 21 walks helping push the on-base percentage to .493. Of course, it helps when the batting order is loaded with veterans such as juniors Grayson Greiner, Joey Pankake, Kyle Martin, Tanner English and Connor Bright, as well as sophomore Max Schrock.
“We can be pretty old with the lineup that we put on the field as far as experience,” coach Chad Holbrook said. “Coach (Ray) Tanner always told me that you win a lot more games with 21 and 22-year olds than you do with 18 and 19-year olds. You need to be old in this league.”
Holbrook had a good idea that his starting rotation would be top-notch, but he got a better handle on the potential of his bullpen, after witnessing strong outings from juniors Joel Seddon and Cody Mincey, sophomores Vince Fiori and Curt Britt, and freshman Taylor Widener. Junior Evan Beal didn’t throw over the weekend due to a sore back.
Citing both the depth and balance in the bullpen, with its mix of right-handers and left-handers, Holbrook said the options will help his team finish games.
“We have a number of guys who we can go to after our starters, hopefully, get us to the sixth inning,” he said. “We can pass the baton from kid to kid to kid depending on the opponent.”
Also, the infield defense looks as if it will be much improved. Greiner already was a stalwart behind the plate, as was Schrock at second base, but plugging in Martin at first base and transfer Marcus Mooney at shortstop should make a big difference this season.
It’s not certain if Pankake or DC Arendas will become a fixture at third base, but both have the capability of anchoring the hot corner. Pankake played one game at third and two in left field against Bucknell, while Arendas played third the other two games. Both had some good moments offensively.
Holbrook said he plans to let that situation play itself out.
“I want Joey to play more third base,” he said. “He’s not going to be our everyday left-fielder. I’m not ready to say that. He’s an infielder by trade, and he’s become a darn good third baseman.”
But when Pankake goes to the outfield, Holbrook is able to get Arendas’ defensive skills into the infield and get another big bat in the lineup at designated hitter.
With a Tuesday game against Presbyterian and a weekend series against Eastern Kentucky at Carolina Stadium this week, Holbrook should continue to find the answers to his early-season questions.