USC Gamecocks Baseball

Mark Kingston personally picked him up from the airport — he’s now a big bat for USC

Mark Kingston: ‘A lot of impact players coming in’ for USC

South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston discusses the incoming Gamecocks class of freshmen and JUCO players.
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South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston discusses the incoming Gamecocks class of freshmen and JUCO players.

It didn’t take long for South Carolina baseball to impress the newest commit to the program, grad transfer catcher Bryant Bowen.

While speaking over the phone with coach Mark Kingston last weekend, Bowen told The State he was struck by Kingston’s straightforward genuineness. Bowen still wanted to take an official visit though, and so USC put him on a flight to Columbia two days later.

When he landed, Kingston was waiting, literally.

“When we spoke on the phone over the weekend, he said word for word ... ‘you’re a mature young man,’ and you don’t hear too many things like that in this day and age. And it meant a lot to me. And he sounded real, and I told him over the phone, ‘I’d love to meet you face to face,’ and he said, ‘I’ll make that happen,’ and sure enough, they flew me in Tuesday and he of all people was the one who picked me up from the airport,” Bowen said. “So that was a great start.”

Bowen committed Thursday, giving Kingston and the Gamecocks yet another Division I-tested bat that could contribute immediately in the lineup — over three years at Southern Miss, Bowen hit .320 with 93 RBIs. He slugged 11 home runs this past season and drove in 51 runs while striking out 30 times.

“(Kingston) was very high on my offensive ability, praised how I almost doubled my RBIs from strikeouts. I think that’s a big deal to him,” Bryant said. “So really just the availability of a big bat, and especially he mentioned they hit for a low team average, and I could be a big help in that. Regardless of where I play on the field, he thinks my bat could be an asset.”

In his three years as Southern Mississippi, Bowen mostly caught or played DH — that balance shifted over time and in his final season he was the designated hitter the majority of the time. That played a key role in his decision to transfer, Bowen said.

“I would love to continue to catch, but at the end of the day, the move was because I felt like I was gonna spend another year DHing and my ultimate goal is to play professional baseball and I don’t believe you can DH your way into professional baseball,” Bowen said. “So once you solidify a defensive position, it holds value and you can take your career off from there.”

In 2019, South Carolina baseball was perilously thin at catcher — redshirt sophomore Luke Berryhill handled the vast majority of games while freshman Wes Clarke developed slowly. Heading into 2020, the Gamecocks will likely have plenty of options: In addition to Bowen, Berryhill was taken in the 13th round of the MLB draft but Kingston has expressed optimism that he will return to school, Clarke comes back, grad transfer Dallas Beaver, who has spent time at catcher, committed Wednesday and incoming freshman Jax Cash is a highly touted prospect.

As a graduate transfer, Bowen will also bring valuable experience to a young squad regrouping from a disappointing 2019 season, in addition to his on-field production.

“I think me just being an older guy, I know the staff would love for me to come in and help mentor these younger guys,” Bowen said. “And they’re young, talented kids, obviously they’re getting the chance to play SEC baseball out of high school and even junior college. I guess you could call me an old man at this point.”

With only one year left in his collegiate career, though, Bowen doesn’t have time to focus on just development. With his goal of playing professionally, winning and producing numbers are pivotal, and he believes South Carolina is poised to regain form.

“I can help them get to where they want to be, and they can help me get to where I want to be. And that’s the deal, especially at the highest level of amateur baseball. If you can get it done there, you have pretty good insight into what you can do at the next level,” Bowen said. “It’s up to me. It’s not gonna be easy. But if I’m able to perform, I know I can get there, and I think they’re the right guys leading the way.”

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.