Matt Connolly

Patience needed for Gamecocks’ offense as Holbrook searches for best lineup

Having too many players you want to play at one time is a good problem to have as a coach. But for the first few weeks of the season it could lead to up-and-down offensive performances from the South Carolina baseball team.

Chad Holbrook started 12 different players during a three-game series with UNC-Greensboro this past weekend with mixed results.

The Gamecocks had 11 hits in wins Friday and Saturday before being held to four in a 1-0 loss on Sunday.

Not only did USC have 12 different players in the starting lineup, but the batting order was changed throughout the weekend. Danny Blair led USC in hitting against the Spartans, going 6-for-11, spending the first two days batting ninth before moving to second on Sunday.

Jonah Bride opened the season in the two-hole before hitting eighth and then ninth the next two days. John Jones was out of the lineup Friday and Saturday before hitting cleanup on Sunday.

Holbrook is trying to find the lineup that gives USC the best chance to win by the time the Gamecocks play Clemson in a three-game series beginning March 3 and certainly before the start of SEC play March 17 at Tennessee.

“We’re still trying to find out who we are offensively and put people in the right places and get a little more balance in our lineup,” Holbrook said after Sunday’s loss.

The middle of the order was a disappointment for South Carolina against the Spartans. Leading returning hitter Alex Destino had a solid weekend, going 4-for-12 with four RBIs, but he didn’t get much help.

Chris Cullen hit cleanup for two games, Madison Stokes hit fifth all weekend and Matt Williams batted sixth for two games.

The three combined to go 4-for-23 (.174) with two runs scored and no RBIs in the series.

“Somebody has to step up other than Destino,” Holbrook said “That’s what I’m going to work hard to try to find.”

The Gamecocks did receive a couple of pleasant surprises at the plate from Blair and transfer Jacob Olson, two players who entered the season as borderline starters.

Blair led the team in total bases with six and a batting average at .545, drove in two runs, scored two runs and had two stolen bases.

Olson finished second, batting .444 with a double and a stolen base.

“They gave us our best at-bats consistently all weekend long,” Holbrook said of the pair. “I love their energy and I love their athleticism. They have the intangibles that I want in our lineup.”

Holbrook is likely to continue to tinker with the lineup in midweek games as the Gamecocks host Charlotte on Tuesday and Kansas State on Thursday.

Freshmen Carlos Cortes and Riley Hogan and junior college transfer Justin Row could get more opportunities. Row and Cortes each started Saturday’s game with Hogan getting a pinch-hit opportunity on Opening Day.

South Carolina should be fine offensively, but there could be more up-and-down performances like the one over the weekend until Holbrook finds the right mix in a lineup.