Matt Connolly

Matt Williams has gone from a platoon player to USC’s best hitter

Matt Williams leads South Carolina in hitting with a .413 batting average.
Matt Williams leads South Carolina in hitting with a .413 batting average. online@thestate.com

South Carolina first baseman Matt Williams has gone from a platoon player the first eight games to the Gamecocks’ best hitter a month into the season.

The latest impressive performance by the junior came Saturday against Michigan State. Williams went 3-for-5 and hit his first home run.

The Honea Path native leads USC with a .413 batting average, the best on the team, and his on-base percentage is also a team-best .500.

“It’s kind of a little bit surreal,” Williams said. “I’m just trying to take it all in and do the little things right every day, just repeat it and keep the same approach, and just battle every time I’m in there.”

Williams has found a home batting third in the Gamecocks’ lineup. He’s previously hit sixth, fifth and cleanup.

He sports a 14-game on-base streak entering Tuesday’s game against Furman at Fluor Field and has hit safely in 13 of the 14 games.

South Carolina opened the year searching for a steady presence in the middle of the order, and Williams has provided one.

“He just gives you a good, quality at-bat every time. That’s meant a lot to us,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said. “If we can get some of our other guys in the middle to feed off Matt, we have the capability of being a really good offensive team.”

What makes Williams so tough to get out is his ability to hit to all fields.

If you throw him an inside fastball, he can turn on it and hit it over the right field wall. If you try to pitch away, he can go with the pitch and slap a single over the shortstop.

He did both in USC’s last game, adding a single up the middle.

“They (opposing pitchers) really don’t know how to attack him,” Holbrook said. “He does a great job with two strikes and using the other side of the field, but he’ll sit on a pitch from time-to-time and drive one like you saw (Saturday). He’s very sound as a hitter, and that’s a lot of the battle when you’re in the batter’s box.”

Williams is tied for third on the team in walks with seven, has been hit by a pitch twice and is second on the team in fewest strikeouts with five.

“You’ve got to pick a good pitch to hit and unload on it,” Williams said. “I try to use the whole field and just work the count. I don’t mind hitting with two strikes, and I think that’s a great trait to have.”

Williams’ journey to being an everyday player has been a long one. He redshirted in 2014 and made only seven starts combined in 2015 and 2016. He said being patient was difficult.

“From the start, Holbrook told me I was going to be a big part of the program eventually,” Williams said. “I trusted him and now it’s paying off.”

“It’s been neat to watch him grow,” Holbrook said. “Maybe we should have played him a lot more before now. Sometimes you don’t know until you put a kid into the game for a consistent period of time, and boy he’s really playing well.”

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