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Trio gets all the attention

There were enough JUGS guns at Brookland-Cayce’s baseball game against Sumter at the Forest Acres Classic last week to set up a decent speed trap. It wasn’t all about velocity, but with a pair of pitchers tossing 90 mph fastballs, speed was on the mind of USC assistant coach Monte Lee.

Matt Price, a right-hander for Sumter, was on the hill against Brookland-Cayce’s big lefty, Adam Westmoreland, in a second-round game of the tournament at A.C. Flora High.

“I just wanted to come out and see them,” said Lee, who recruited the two before they signed letters of intent with the Gamecocks in November. “You don’t get a chance to see two pitchers of this caliber going against each other in a high school setting too often.”

Price earned the decision in a 5-1 victory, but the performance of both was worth the price of admission. Price, who ran his record to 4-1, pitched a complete game, giving up two hits while striking out eight and walking none. Westmoreland, saddled with his first loss, struck out 12 in five innings, giving up two earned runs on five hits and two walks.Lee was impressed.

“These are two of the best pitchers in the Southeast, and probably two of the best pitchers to come through the state in quite some time,” he said.

That is the kind of stuff coach Ray Tanner will be looking for from the pair — along with speedy White Knoll center fielder Adam Matthews, who also played in the Forest Acres Classic — when they join the Gamecocks.

“It’s very difficult for freshmen at this level to make an immediate impact because the game speeds up from high school to college,” Tanner said. “There’s a learning curve, and unlike football, where you redshirt the whole freshman class, that’s not something you do in baseball.

“It usually takes time, but we feel that both of those pitchers can make impacts as freshmen.”

And Matthews, the outfielder?

“He may be the fastest runner in the Southeast,” Tanner said. “He’s got a great throwing arm. He’s an athlete. A very special athlete. ... Lots of times, you think of center fielders as runners and singles hitters, but I think in time he’ll have power. He’s got a way to go offensively, but he certainly has an upside.”

It’s one thing to have the talent to play at any school in the country, but to have an elite program practically in your back yard is special.

“I had some other camps I was going to, but he (Tanner) told me to cancel those because I was going to be a Gamecock,” said Matthews, who is hitting nearly .400. “That made my decision pretty quickly.

The three players were initially recruited by Jim Toman, the former USC assistant who is now the head coach at Liberty. When Toman left, Lee stayed on the trail. Half of his job was done, in more ways than one.

“It obviously means a lot to me, being a former Gamecock,” said Brookland-Cayce coach Brian Hucks, who played baseball at USC. “Just to have one of my players go to one of the top 10 schools in the country is a big deal, but the fact that Carolina’s recruiting our state says a lot about the quality of our baseball.”

Surprisingly, not all three players grew up Gamecocks fans. Price, who has a .018 ERA, was an Air Force brat who came to South Carolina when he was 12 after his dad was transferred to Sumter. Westmoreland, despite living across the river, “used to be a Tiger football fan. I didn’t care too much for baseball up there, but I was a Clemson football fan for a long time,” he said. “I talked to coach Toman when he was here, and he got me interested in USC.”

All three want to play collegiately at USC, but the guys behind home plate with radar guns were not there for the hot dogs. The lure of a big contract to play professionally will be there.

“It’s always a risk when you try to bring the best talent in the state into our program,” Lee said. “You always have to deal with the draft when you go after talented players, and there’s a chance we may lose them. But their education is important to them, and it would take a hefty sum to lose them to the draft.”

A.C. Flora coach Andy Hallett, who has seen all three from the opposite dugout more times than he would like, hopes they will be around for a while.

“Those are three good players who’ll be playing five minutes from here,” Hallett said. “I’m excited.”

Reach McLaurin at (803) 240-3514.

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