What Mark Kingston learned from, thinks about South Carolina’s difficult year
When the NCAA Baseball Tournament field was revealed on Memorial Day, South Carolina was represented by Ray Tanner, head of the selection committee, but the Gamecocks themselves were absent from the proceedings.
Carolina’s season ended this past Tuesday in the first round of the SEC tournament with an 8-6 loss to LSU, and just making it that far counted as something of a surprise after USC lost its first eight series in conference play. At 28-28 overall and 8-22 in SEC play, South Carolina missed the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five years.
Understanding South Carolina’s frustrating, underwhelming and sometimes downright ugly 2019 means sifting through a lot of dubious distinctions and all-time lows. Here are some of the worst.
WINS AND LOSSES
Over the past 55 years of South Carolina baseball, the Gamecocks have had just three losing seasons. Carolina avoided that dubious distinction in 2019, barely, but its 28-28 record that stands as the team’s fourth-worst winning percentage in more than half a century and also ties the program record for most losses in a season.
The team’s 8-22 in SEC play is its worst mark in conference play by both number of losses and winning percentage since it joined the league in 1992.
South Carolina avoided becoming the first SEC team to ever lose all 10 regular season series since the league expanded to a 30-game schedule, but the Gamecocks did set a program record by losing eight consecutive series to start SEC play and nine in total.
USC entered the season with plenty of hype — Noah Campbell was a preseason All-American, TJ Hopkins was expected to star as long as he stayed healthy, and Andrew Eyster was coming off torrid performances at the JUCO and summer ball ranks.
Instead, the Gamecocks stumbled to one of its worst hitting seasons in decades. They broke the program record for strikeouts in a season, whiffing 511 times in 56 games - 9.125 times per contest. The previous record was 488 strikeouts over 69 games in 2001 - 7.072 times per game.
To be fair, that number was on pace to be far higher early on, and the Gamecocks managed to cut down on their strikeouts.
South Carolina’s .236 batting average was the program’s worst since 1970 and third lowest since 1962, the first year for which statistics are available. Carolina’s .333 on-base percentage was its lowest in at least four decades.
In SEC games, Carolina particularly struggled at the plate, hitting just .208, worst in the conference.
On the mound, USC dealt with a catastrophic number of injuries, with three players undergoing Tommy John surgery before the year began and six others missing time throughout the season.
The staff finished with a 5.51 ERA, its worst mark in a season since 1997 and third-worst in program history over the last half-century. Opponents hit .266 against South Carolina, the second-highest mark in 20 years.
With 70 wild pitches, the Gamecocks narrowly avoided breaking the program record of 73, set over 64 games in 1992.
Again, South Carolina labored mightily in conference play, finishing last in the league in SEC-only ERA with a 6.85 mark.
The Gamecocks’ defense finished 2019 with a .972 fielding percentage, not close to the program’s all-time worst, but a drop of eight points from a season ago.
USC also turned just 35 double plays, tied for second-fewest in the past 45 years, and opposing baserunners successfully stole 58 bases, the most in a decade.