South Carolina’s offense had, perhaps, its best day of the season Sunday at Tennessee, but it was the performances by the Gamecocks’ young pitchers that could mean the most moving forward.
With ace Clarke Schmidt and closer Tyler Johnson out for the weekend and USC having already thrown its top bullpen guys on Friday and Saturday, Carolina had to rely on three freshmen as it tried for its first three-game series sweep of the season.
Cody Morris, Sawyer Bridges and Colby Lee were up to the challenge, combining to hold the Volunteers to two runs in No. 10 USC’s 10-2 victory.
“Throwing three freshmen out there on a conference weekend and being able to get the win, I’m proud of those guys, all three of them,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said. “That’s great experience for them, and we’re certainly going to need them going forward. You never know when and never know how much, but you’re going to need them.”
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Morris got the start and pitched 3 2/3 innings, holding the Volunteers to one run. He surrendered three hits and three walks while striking out four.
Carolina led 2-1 in the fourth inning with two on and two out when Bridges replaced Morris. The Summerville native got a fly out to strand two and went on to allow one run in 1 1/3 innings. Bridges struck out three of the seven batters he faced.
Lee pitched the final four innings to earn the win and retired the first 10 batters he faced. Lee allowed only one of the 13 hitters he faced to reach, and recorded five strikeouts.
“If Colby Lee throws like that every time out, I’ll put him in every game. That was impressive,” Holbrook said. “Colby was spectacular at the end. Colby likes to compete, and I think you saw that in him today.”
Making the three outings more impressive is that all three pitchers were making their SEC debut. They were doing so on the road. And they were doing so against the team that entered the weekend tied for the SEC’s second-best batting average.
“All three guys threw the ball well, and Cody was spectacular at the end,” Holbrook said. “But the other guys got their feet wet in league play, and I think that’s important today. We don’t stand here feeling really good about ourselves without Cody and Sawyer getting in there and throwing well.”
You can never have too many arms in league play, and South Carolina’s freshmen proved Sunday they can be counted on to help win games in the SEC.