Mark Kingston recaps USC’s series win over Kentucky, looks ahead to final SEC series
Both took over SEC programs coming off seasons without NCAA tournament appearances and both won regionals in their first seasons. Mingione won conference Coach of the Year in 2017, while Kingston had his team a game away from the College World Series.
And this season, both are going through rough campaigns rife with injuries, a situation that has both battling for the last spot in the SEC tournament.
One might imagine they’d talk and commiserate about such things, but they didn’t get the chance. The threat of weather forced Saturday and Sunday’s games to start early, compressing the schedule. But even in that, Mingione came away impressed with Kingston.
“Compliment, kudos to these guys for starting the games at 11 and doing whatever the could to get the games in,” Mingione said. “As an opposing coach, I can tell you how much respect I had for that because they’re willing to do whatever, even if it mean getting up a little earlier in the morning.”
The Gamecocks took the first two games of the series, eking out a tight win Friday and blowing things open in the later innings on Saturday. South Carolina wasn’t able to get much off Wildcats ace Zack Thompson on Sunday, and compounded that with a porous defense and a pair of wild pitches.
Coming out of that, Mingione called it a close series throughout, saying the Gamecocks were a pitch or play away from keeping Sunday’s 6-2 outcome from being a bit closer.
And he had strong words about Kingston’s staff.
“They’re great coaches,” Mingione said. “They’ve done a great job. Much like us, they’ve lost a lot of guys. It’s hard. When you think about the year that they had last year and how close they were to making it to Omaha. I just have so much respect for them, the type of coaches they are and the way they coach and go about their business.”
The Gamecocks are 26-25, 7-20 in the SEC. Last year, they won 37 games and rallied from a slow start in conference play to go 17-13.
Now these two teams will go into the final weekend of the regular season battling for a smaller prize. They’re knotted in the standings and finished their third game a half game behind Alabama for 12th place and a trip to Hoover, Alabama.
All three teams face top-10 opponents next week (No. 7 Georgia for Alabama, No. 2 Vanderbilt for Kentucky, No. 6 Mississippi State for South Carolina). All three of those opponents are in the mix for an SEC title with Arkansas.
Mingione has been in the conference for well over a decade, and he said this is just par for the course.
“This league is so difficult,” Mingione said. “... Typically, it comes down to the last weekend.
“The guys at the bottom are fighting to get in. The guys at the top are fighting to win the league. This year, the way it looks right now, it will be no different.”
After play Sunday, the Gamecocks, Wildcats and Crimson Tide were all tied in the standings.
South Carolina will in all likelihood need to win more games than Alabama to make it to Hoover. The Tide has the head-to-head tiebreaker. In the case of a three-way tie, South Carolina is not in position to take any of of the other tiebreakers because of its losing record against all but one SEC opponent.