Mark Kingston on South Carolina baseball’s ‘big’ season-opening series win
With a dramatic walk-off wild pitch win on Sunday, South Carolina baseball secured its first series win of 2019, taking two of three games against Liberty at Founders Park. With two midweek games coming up and a long season stretching out ahead for the Gamecocks, here are some early takeaways for USC — good, bad and in-between.
Brett Kerry: The freshman right-hander was flat-out terrific for the Gamecocks this weekend, pitching three perfect innings in relief with five strikeouts. What made the performance even more exciting for USC fans was how unheralded he was in fall ball.
As it turns out, Kerry had a meeting with his coaches after fall practices and came back this preseason a changed pitcher, coach Mark Kingston said.
“They just sat me down and said, ‘Obviously, something needs to change,’ ” Kerry said. “And I think it was more mental. I just had to sit down with myself and be like, ‘I can’t be scared to go out there, and if I get hit, if I walk people, it is what it is, but I have to go out there and compete every time.’ ”
Reid Morgan: Morgan had started just one game across a year in JUCO ball and a year at Oklahoma State, but he was extremely effective against Liberty, going a team-high six innings and allowing just one earned run.
After coming to South Carolina expecting to be a bullpen arm, Morgan threw like a Friday night starter for the Gamecocks, but he said afterward he actually likes closing the weekend.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, it’s your Sunday spot.’ But more than likely, your Sunday spot’s your biggest spot,” Morgan said. “You’re either looking for a sweep or looking to win a series or just trying to win, so it was nice to see I was named to the Sunday role.”
Quinntin Perez: Throughout the fall and into the preseason, not much was said about freshman infielder Quinntin Perez, who seemed likely to become a second or third option at several positions and only seem limited playing time.
But Perez got plenty of opportunities in his first weekend and did well with them. After pinch-hitting Friday and drawing a walk, he started at DH on Saturday and went 2-for-4 at the plate with a pair of RBIs and a run scored. That performance earned him another start Sunday, and while he didn’t manage a hit, he did reach base after being hit by a pitch and should have had a bunt single had he not fallen running to first. And of course, he was at bat when the final, fateful wild pitch was thrown.
Defense: Before the series even began, Kingston said the defense would take time to develop and match last year’s squad, which tied the program record for fielding percentage. Sure enough, the gloves were far from perfect against the Flames, with four errors and a number of other sloppy plays.
“Some of our defensive areas need to be shored up,” Kingston said.
Free bases: Related to the point above, Kingston has repeatedly stressed the importance of limiting miscues that give opponents’ free bases. That haunted the Gamecocks on Friday, as the pitchers had four wild pitches, including one that let in the game-winning run. And it only got mildly better over the rest of the series — USC’s pitchers finished with eight wild pitches, two hit batters, one passed ball and one balk on the weekend. That’s a lot of free bases.
Noah Campbell: The preseason All-American had a dreadful start at the plate after tearing up the Cape Cod League and fall ball for USC. He was 0-for-13 to begin the year, before finally connecting for a single in his final at-bat of Game 3. He struck out six times and looked somewhat shaky at second base as well.
Mitigating all that is the improvement Campbell did show from start to finish in the series — he struck five times in Game 1, then walked, scored a run and only struck out once in Game 2 before collecting a hit and an RBI in Game 3 with no strikeouts. Still, not the first series Campbell or the fans were hoping for.
Midweek starters: Because Carolina’s starters didn’t go very deep into the first two games of the series, Kingston and pitching coach Skylar Meade were forced to use all but two of the pitchers on their staff. Where that leaves the Gamecocks for their midweek starters is unclear, with Kingston seemingly keeping all options on the table.
“We’ll look at everything, we’ll see from a pitch count standpoint, see who’s available,” Kingston said. “Tuesdays and Wednesdays this year might be a lot of different guys. You see when we bring our bullpen guys in for one or two innings at a time, they all seem really good in that role, so we’re going to decide what the best way to try to have the best success on that Tuesday night is.”
South Carolina hosts Winthrop on Tuesday in a midweek contest at Founders Park. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m., and the game will be streamed on SEC Network Plus. The forecast calls for rain in the evening.
The Gamecocks are scheduled to host Presbyterian at 4 p.m. Wednesday and then host a weekend series against Utah Valley at 4 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.