Last Friday’s announcement that South Carolina pitching coach Jerry Meyers would be taking an indefinite medical leave of absence and not return to Gamecocks baseball came as a shock to fans of the program.
For the high school standouts committed to play for USC, it was no less abrupt — but it still did not sway their decision to pick the Gamecocks.
At Northwestern High School, where star pitchers John Gilreath and Wesley Sweatt signed their letters of intent to play for South Carolina on Wednesday, both players said they first heard about Meyers’ departure last week during personal calls from new USC head coach Mark Kingston.
“I didn’t anticipate any of that coming. I just got a phone call from Coach Kingston and he said, ‘This is the situation we’re presented with. Coach Meyers isn’t going to be returning this year.’ And that’s just basically what it was,” Gilreath, who will enroll in college early in January, said.
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Meyers was key to recruiting both Gilreath and Sweatt, they said, and they both expressed admiration for the veteran coach.
“He’s a great pitching coach but an even better person and I wish the best for him,” Sweatt said.
But when it came down to it, both players have been committed to the Gamecocks for at least a year and already underwent a much bigger coaching change when Kingston was hired this past summer to replace departed head coach Chad Holbrook, and they both said they never wavered in their commitment.
“I’m a Gamecock. I’m not committed to any other school, so when that happens, there was no doubt in my mind that I’m going to go there and continue on what I’ve been working so hard to achieve. The plan’s always been to go to South Carolina,” Gilreath said. “When Coach Holbrook left, I didn’t waver in my commitment. I was still committed and I’ve kept that same mindset all the way through, even with Coach Kingston coming in and all the rest of the stuff that’s happened.”
Sweatt expressed similar sentiments.
“Nothing went through my mind. I’m still committed to USC. I grew up a USC fan, that’s where I’ve always wanted to go,” he said.
Still, Meyers’ leave of absence complicates South Carolina’s already unsettled pitching situation — the Gamecocks lose almost 70 percent of their innings from last season, the staff has no left-handers with college experience (a situation that likely led to Gilreath deciding to enroll early) and Kingston has been blunt in his assessment that the pitchers still on the roster need to be better.
Meyers coached at South Carolina from 1996-2004 and again from 2010 until his departure, presiding over pitching staffs that guided the Gamecocks to national titles in 2010 and 2011 and a College World Series in 2012.