What Mark Kingston learned from, thinks about South Carolina’s difficult year
LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri’s done just about everything a skipper on his level can hope for — a national title, multiple College World Series berths, six SEC tournament championships and more than 1,000 career wins.
And he thinks South Carolina’s got the real deal in coach Mark Kingston, even as his Tigers defeated the Gamecocks on Tuesday night at the SEC tourney, ending the worst season in nearly 25 years of Carolina baseball.
“I think Mark Kingston’s one of the very best coaches in the country, in all honesty,” Mainieri said. “I think this year was an aberration, and he’ll turn them around and get them in the right direction. But there’s some things you just can’t control, and when you take away top pitchers, people think it’s an excuse, but hey, just think about any team. Take away their top pitchers and they’re a completely different team.”
Mainieri cited those pitching injuries as the biggest factor in South Carolina’s rough campaign — by the end of the year, Kingston had just 11 healthy available pitchers and was prepping to use position players on the mound over the final few games.
That lack of pitching depth was striking Tuesday, as USC’s pitchers, all underclassmen, seemed to run out of steam against LSU’s lineup in an 8-6 loss. But while the result put a final emphatic end on the 2019 season, Mainieri recalled a far different set of results from a year ago.
“I’ve coached against several of those players that were out there on the field. Last year they swept us in Columbia, and a lot of those players were key players in making that happen,” Mainieri said.
That three-game sweep in April 2018 jump-started an epic stretch run for the Gamecocks that extended all the way to the NCAA Super Regionals, one win from Omaha. Things ended far differently this time around, but Mainieri, who missed the NCAA tournament in his first season but went on to win a national title in Year 3, gave Kingston a full-throated endorsement moving forward.
“He’ll figure it out. Not this year, obviously ... but he’ll figure it out. He’s a great coach and he’ll figure it out,” Mainieri said. “He’s been through tough times just like all of us have. Nothing comes easy in this business, I can assure you of that. And you just got to keep fighting through, and Mark will. He’s a quality coach and a quality person.”