In its second and final scrimmage against an opposing team this fall, South Carolina baseball rode a late surge of offense to a 10-6 victory over Georgia Tech on Sunday at Founders Park.
The result, though, doesn’t count toward the Gamecocks’ record and, as coach Mark Kingston has said before, doesn’t matter to his staff at all.
That being said, Kingston said the 12 innings the two teams played gave him some insight into how his players react in game situations, better than the intersquad scrimmages do.
“As a coach, what you try to get a sense for is who really gets excited on this stage and can take their game up to an even sharper level (and) who looks a little bit nervous on that stage,” Kingston said. “So at the end of the day, it’s a team that’s really trying to beat you. Intersquads, they’re all just trying to play good baseball, but in this setting they’re trying to beat you, and we’re trying to beat them, so it just adds a little bit different flavor to it.”
So who rose to the occasion and stood out? And who still has some work to do? Here are five observations from Sunday’s scrimmage.
Pitchers settle down
In South Carolina’s first scrimmage of the fall at NC State, the Gamecock pitching staff was rocked for 15 runs in 12 innings. Just two guys recorded a scoreless inning, and while Kingston said afterward that USC was still early in fall ball and that many expected key contributors won’t be fully healthy until the spring, it was still a somewhat worrisome look given how much the Gamecocks struggled with pitching injuries last season and how deep that forced the coaching staff to look for arms.
Against Georgia Tech, the numbers and the stuff were better. Kingston singled out JUCO transfer Brannon Jordan as the standout performer of the day — he went two perfect innings and struck out four.
“I thought he was very crisp, had great stuff, great command, great composure out there. I would say of all the guys that pitch today, he probably was the sharpest,” Kingston said.
Beyond him though, six other pitchers came in and threw scoreless innings, and the Gamecocks struck out 15 compared to six walks. Sophomore Daniel Lloyd hit 95 miles per hour with his fastball, sophomore Cam Tringali was efficient and effective, and freshman Trey Tujetsch continued his solid fall with the help of a double play.
Top-end stuff, not results
The pitcher more than two dozen scouts were on hand to see, though, was redshirt sophomore Carmen Mlodzinski. A strong summer in the Cape Cod League vaulted him into first-round MLB draft pick discussion, and his previous appearances this fall lived up to the hype, with a fastball around 96-97 mph, a changeup around 85 and a strong cutter.
He didn’t pitch against North Carolina State, though, and on Sunday, in his first appearance against outside competition, he was barreled up for two hits, a double and a single, that scored two runs. He did strike out the side.
“Carmen’s stuff was electric. I mean, just about every fastball he threw was 97 miles an hour,” Kingston said, “but he didn’t throw all his pitches. He didn’t throw many cutters today, and he was working on things, so again, he probably didn’t pitch as well ... he wanted a zero up there like everybody else did. But, you know, when you got that guy throwing for you, you got a good chance.”
Senior Graham Lawson, who Kingston has said on multiple occasions will likely take on the closer role for the Gamecocks in 2020, also struggled a bit, giving up three runs, two earned, on three hits and a walk in one inning. His fastball sits consistently in the mid-90s. He also ran into trouble during the NC State scrimmage. After an injury forced him to miss all of the 2019 season, some rust is to be expected.
Situational hitting and walks
As part of a five-run ninth inning, graduate transfer catcher Bryant Bowen and junior college transfer Anthony Amicangelo showcased the more “small-ball,” traditional approach Kingston has emphasized this offseason. Both players executed perfect hit-and-run plays to create holes in the infield, turning ground balls into easy singles. That eventually set up a three-run home run from sophomore Wes Clarke.
“We’re working on battling with strikes, with two strikes, and I thought the guys did a good job with that,” Kingston said. “Part of that is approach, part of that is you have the guys that can do it. ... When you can put the ball in play with two strikes, you give yourself a chance.”
The Gamecocks also drew 10 walks Sunday, with freshman Brennan Milone and sophomore Brady Allen getting two each, against 13 strikeouts. Compared to the 2.28-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio the Gamecocks had last season, that’s a much-needed improvement.
Freshman making a push at catcher
Freshman Colin Burgess made some noise at the last scrimmage with a solid defensive effort and a home run, but graduate transfer Dallas Beaver got the start behind the plate Sunday. As it turned out, though, Burgess still put together another strong performance to keep himself in serious contention at a crowded spot.
“Colin Burgess made a very, very good showing today, defensively and offensively, so he’s going to be considered back there, along with Beaver, who started,” Kingston said. “But I thought Colin Burgess was probably a little sharper today back there, and the pitchers seem to be pretty comfortable throwing to him.”
Burgess homered again and went 1-for-3 at the plate, and he threw out a baserunner trying to advance. Beaver was 0-for-5 with four strikeouts. There are other options Kingston has at catcher, but Burgess is not going away despite coming in behind more heralded prospects.
Question marks moving forward?
Looking ahead to the spring, Kingston seems to have a fairly good handle on most of his lineup, or at the very least enough decent options to feel good about where he’s at. One spot where the Gamecocks do seem unsettled is at first base — Wes Clarke played there Sunday and has gotten plenty of reps at the position throughout the fall, but he’s still an option at catcher, just as Bowen and Beaver are also options at both positions.
“He’s still a catcher, but I would say he’s probably a first base/catcher, where last year he was more a catcher/first base,” Kingston said of Clarke. “Based on who else we have on this team, a lot of times where guys played doesn’t necessarily mean it’s their best position, but it’s their best position based on who else we have on the roster.”