Mark Kingston ‘pleasantly surprised’ by Gamecocks’ power, pitching ‘needs to evolve’
The baseballs rocketing off Gamecock bats on Sunday at Founders Park confirmed that and then some, as USC got four home runs and senior TJ Hopkins hit for the cycle in a 12-6 win over Valparaiso to complete the series sweep.
After getting back-to-back long balls to claim a walk-off win Saturday, Carolina’s power surge stayed strong, led by Hopkins, the first Gamecock to hit for the cycle since April 2015, and senior third baseman Jacob Olson, who twice went deep and had five RBIs.
Redshirt freshman Ian Jenkins added the first home run of his collegiate career and three hits in the rout.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that what we saw has actually come to fruition, no doubt about it,” coach Mark Kingston said of his team’s power numbers. “There’s so many new guys, and power’s usually the last thing to come for hitters. Taking quality at-bats usually leads to power as guys get older and stronger, so to replace everything we had last year, so far I’m pleased with the power production.”
Jenkins’ long ball in the third kicked off the scoring for the day and marked a special moment for him after struggling with injuries and at the plate throughout his first year on campus.
“My power’s useless if I can’t make contact, so coach (Kingston) and I just worked on a shorter swing and being direct to the ball, and once I did that, I think stuff started happening for me,” Jenkins said.
In the top of fourth, the Crusaders tied the game with an RBI double, as freshman starter Brett Kerry, who got the win, seemed to struggle his second time through the lineup.
Hopkins put USC (13-3) back ahead with a home run in the bottom of the fourth. Two batters later, Olson connected for a two-run blast. He leads the team with seven home runs already this season.
“I was here this summer, just working out. Other than getting after it like that, I haven’t done anything,” Olson said of the key adjustment that led to his power numbers. “I’m just seeing it really well right now.”
Jenkins and Hopkins, who combined for seven hits on the day, teamed up for another run in the fifth with a pair of doubles.
Valparaiso rallied again, however, knocking Kerry out of the game in the sixth inning and then using a passed ball and two-run home run made it 5-4. An inning later, the Crusaders tied the game once again with a sacrifice fly.
The Gamecocks took the lead back for good in the bottom half of the seventh. With two outs, Hopkins singled, Berryhill walked and Olson hit another home run to left field.
USC then busted things wide open in the eighth. Singles from Jenkins and sophomore Noah Campbell, coupled with an error, put runners on second and third. A wild pitch scored one, and after freshman Brady Allen was hit by a pitch, Hopkins tripled to complete the cycle. He then scored on another wild pitch to cap the offense for the day.
“After I hit that single for my third hit ... a pitcher came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you’re a triple shy from the cycle.’ I was like, ‘Really? I didn’t even know that.’ But going up to the plate (the last time), I did know,” Hopkins said.
Sophomore TJ Shook finished off the game with a two-inning save.
The week ahead
▪ Tuesday: In Charleston to play The Citadel (7 p.m.). The game will be streamed online on the SoCon Digital Network.
▪ Friday-Saturday-Sunday: Home series vs. Georgia (7 p.m., 4 p.m., 1:30 p.m.), all games streaming on SEC Network via the WatchESPN app