Mark Kingston previews Florida series, talks tall task facing Gamecocks in SEC play
Through his first year-plus at the helm of South Carolina, coach Mark Kingston seemed all-in on the future of analytics in baseball, using buzzwords like exit velocity, spin rate and launch angle to describe his numbers- and technology-friendly approach.
But with the Gamecocks slumping in the SEC standings and preparing to face Florida in a crucial series, Kingston is throwing things back to a more traditional offensive approach, one on full display in Tuesday’s 5-4 win over Charlotte.
“We tried hit-and-runs, we tried steals, we tried safety squeezes, we hit homers. Just gotta have a lot of different ways to score runs. That’s the part of the evolution of the team within the season, and if that’s how we have to win games, that’s how we have to win games,” Kingston said.
Early on in the season, USC’s offense was simple — the Gamecocks smashed lots and lots of home runs. And Carolina still leads the SEC in long balls. But as time has gone on, those shots haven’t been able to cover up for the team’s league-worst batting average and on-base percentage, which has resulted in just 3.17 runs per game in SEC play.
“We were scoring all our runs basically on home runs and doubles,” sophomore outfielder Andrew Eyster said. “And as much as we would have liked to continue that into SEC play, to keep that pattern going, it doesn’t always work that way. So it is something that we’ve had to relearn and refocus on so we’re not just a one-sided offense.”
The offense isn’t the only thing Kingston is switching up ahead of Florida — junior pitcher Reid Morgan has been the team’s best starter by far this season but had been pitching the second game in series in order to give the bullpen arms more rest. Against the Gators, Morgan will start Game 1 on Thursday.
Morgan will be followed on Friday by redshirt freshman Cam Tringali. The Gamecocks will remain without sophomore Carmen Mlodzinski, the team’s top starter to begin the season, until the team’s May 10-12 series against Kentucky as he recovers from a broken bone in his foot, Kingston said.
In the meantime, USC and Florida are battling for position near the bottom of the SEC standings, and both teams badly need wins, and fast, to have any chance at the postseason. Still, as the Gamecocks near the midway mark in conference play, Kingston said he would not put pressure on his team by calling this series a must-win.
“I don’t ever want to use that — pressure. I want the guys to enjoy playing, I don’t want them to feel the weight of the world on their shoulders every time we play a game,” Kingston said. “I want them to be disciplined, I want them to play the game the right way and live up to expectations, but I don’t want them to feel pressure. In our game, when you feel pressure, you get tight, and when you get tight, you don’t play well.”
Who: South Carolina (20-13, 3-9 SEC) vs. Florida (22-13, 4-8 SEC)
When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday
6:30 p.m., Friday
3:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: McKethan Stadium, Gainesville, Florida
TV: ESPNU on Thursday
Streaming on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN on Friday and Saturday
Radio: 107.5 FM in Columbia area
Probable starters (Thursday): USC — Jr. RHP Reid Morgan (3-0, 2.60 ERA); UF — So. RHP Tommy Mace (5-3, 4.26 ERA)
Probable starters (Friday): USC — R-Fr. RHP Cam Tringali (1-0, 3.03 ERA); UF — Fr. RHP Christian Scott (3-1, 3.60 ERA)
Probable starters (Saturday): USC — TBA; UF — TBA