The result didn’t matter. The scoreboard said South Carolina baseball was soundly beaten in its scrimmage with North Carolina State this past Sunday, 15-5, but coach Mark Kingston was firm — the score didn’t matter.
“This is about seeing guys. This was a practice. There was a scoreboard on and we had another opponent, but this was a practice,” Kingston said.
In the second year under new NCAA rules that allow teams to play two fall scrimmages against other schools, Kingston and USC are approaching these games less like exhibitions and more like the joint practices that NFL teams prefer. Some of the decisions and moves he made Sunday against NC State would never happen come the 2020 regular season, he said.
But regardless of whether it was a practice or scrimmage or exhibition, Kingston did get a reminder from NC State that his pitching staff has some work to do. Expected key pieces like redshirt sophomore Carmen Mlodzinski, sophomore Brett Kerry and JUCO transfers Thomas Farr and Andrew Peters didn’t take the mound, but nine pitchers did over 12 innings, and only two kept the Wolfpack from scoring runs.
“I saw a lot of pitchers that aren’t quite ready to be pitching in games yet,” Kingston acknowledged. “Obviously we’re a little over a week into fall ball and just weren’t quite sharp. Walked too many guys today. The stuff was there, every guy we threw out there was 90-plus and a lot of guys 92-plus, but just not sharp yet this early into practice.”
And while Kingston said those pitchers are mostly expected to form the back end of South Carolina’s staff, competing for the “last few innings” not taken by Mlodzinski, Kerry and others, some of them could wind up playing key roles if the Gamecocks struggle as much with injuries as they did in the 2019 season.
The two hurlers who didn’t surrender any runs — junior John Gilreath and freshman Trey Tujetsch — impressed Kingston the most on the day. Gilreath attacked the strike zone and recorded four strikeouts in two innings, while Tujetsch induced weak contact for a 1-2-3 frame.
But while the most important pieces of the pitching staff didn’t see the field Sunday, the lineup was full of expected starters and contributors. Here’s who made the biggest impressions, both positive and negative.
The sophomore outfielder played in every game of his rookie season but hit just .210 with 55 strikeouts against 35 walks. He did drive in 30 runs and homer seven times, but he looked noticeably improved against NC State, going 2-for-4 with a walk and an RBI. Kingston has taken note.
“I think maturity is the best word to use on him. He’s a more mature player defensively and offensively. Last year getting to play every day and going out and playing a bunch of games in the summer has done him a lot of good, and he’s taken that next step in his development,” Kingston said.
A highly-regarded prospect out of high school taken in the 29th round of the MLB draft, Milone played all 12 innings at third base on Sunday and make a couple nice plays in the field in addition to collecting two singles and a run with some aggressive baserunning.
“He’s a guy that’s going to be right there in the mix for us. He’s been very solid defensively and he has a chance to be a special hitter,” Kingston said.
After two impressive summers in the Cape Cod League, there’s no denying Campbell has talent. And that alone might be enough to get him a nice draft slot next June. But after a disappointing sophomore season, he’s yet to reach to his full potential at Carolina. On Sunday, he went 1-for-3 and looked decent on the field. It seems unlikely he won’t get starts and chances to prove himself in the spring, but Campbell’s still searching for the form that made Kingston so enthusiastic about him as a freshman.
The Gamecocks are crowded behind the plate — four catchers got time Sunday, and freshman Jax Cash will be added to the mix in the spring when he’s fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. But freshman Colin Burgess has distinguished himself early with some solid defensive play.
With the surprise loss of Luke Berryhill to the pros and the addition of two graduate transfer options, Burgess got a little lost in the shuffle during the summer, but he’s earned a steady number of reps thus far in the fall, and he did slash a single in his lone plate appearance on Sunday.
One of the graduate transfer options at catcher, Beaver might not actually wind up behind the plate. He can also play third base, first base or designated hitter. What’s become increasingly clear this fall is that South Carolina needs his bat in the lineup. He backed that up with a massive home run Sunday that came off his bat at 107 miles per hour.
That being said, Beaver did end the day 1-for-5 at the plate with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout into a double play. The Gamecocks relied heavily on home runs last year, to minimal effect, and Kingston said going into the fall that a more fundamental approach would be key this year. Beaver’s an experienced, powerful bat, but he’ll need to be consistent.