Matt Connolly

Hopkins makes amends, might have saved USC’s season

TJ Hopkins was disappointed with himself after striking out three times Thursday in South Carolina’s win against Missouri, and sent coach Chad Holbrook a text message to let him know he was ready to make up for it.

The sophomore then delivered USC’s biggest hit of the season on Friday, blasting a pinch-hit, three-run homer in the seventh inning as the Gamecocks topped No. 10 Kentucky 3-1.

Holbrook’s decision to pinch-hit Hopkins, and the outfielder delivering, could be enough to get South Carolina into the NCAA Tournament.

“I was just frustrated with the way I played (Thursday),” Hopkins said. “I figured I’d shoot him a text and told him, ‘I’m feeling better than I usually am with my leg, and I want to help the team win.’ 

With Danny Blair playing well, Jacob Olson feeling better and Hopkins still dealing with a quad injury, Holbrook did not have Hopkins in the starting lineup.

Still, the text message he received Thursday evening let him know Hopkins was in the right mindset to contribute.

“You want kids that want to be in there. You don’t want kids to shy away from competition. TJ’s never been one to shy away from competition,” Holbrook said. “He’ll always be one of my all-time favorite kids. He’s a tough nut, football mentality kid, believes in himself, very athletic, loves to win. He was due a moment like today, and I couldn’t be happier or prouder of him.”

The win gives South Carolina another victory against a top-10 RPI team and improves USC’s record against SEC opponents to 16-18.

Holbrook is hopeful those numbers, as well as the injuries Carolina had to deal with, will be enough for the Gamecocks to make the tournament, regardless of what happens the rest of the week in Hoover.

“Now we’re in the conversation. I feel good. We have a lot of things in our favor when you look at our resume,” Holbrook said. “If injuries are taken into account, not having our best guys to get a couple of outs there for about five or six series, I think everybody’s smart enough to know we’re one of the best at-large teams in the country. Whether we’ve done enough, that’s not up for me to decide. But I feel very comfortable knowing that we’re one of the best at-large teams available. I don’t think anybody would welcome seeing us in their regional.”

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