South Carolina already ranks in the top five in the SEC in batting average, and its lineup is getting even better.
Sophomore Madison Stokes was expected to bat in the middle of the order before being sidelined for the first several weeks of the season with a foot injury. He made his season debut last weekend, pinch hitting at Vanderbilt, and earned his first start of the year Tuesday against Coastal Carolina.
Stokes hit several balls hard against the Chanticleers, did not strike out and recorded his first hit of the season in the eighth inning.
With Stokes joining John Jones, Dom Thompson-Williams and Alex Destino in the middle of the USC order, Carolina coach Chad Holbrook believes an already strong lineup is going up to another level.
“He brings us something from a bat speed standpoint, a physicality standpoint, an explosive athlete standpoint, that makes us more formidable offensively,” Holbrook said. “The middle of our lineup with Jones, Dom, Stokes and Destino, that’s a different deal. You’re going to have to pick your poison there.”
Stokes is also a right-handed hitter, something the Gamecocks could use in the middle of the order.
For most of the season, Gene Cone, LT Tolbert, Jones, Destino and Thompson-Williams have made up the first five hitters in the order. Four of the five hitters bat left-handed with Jones being a switch hitter.
“Another right-handed hitter between Dom and Destino is important I think,” Holbrook said. “I don’t know how the order will be, but he certainly is a guy that can square balls up and do damage from an extra-base hit standpoint, which we are lacking on our infield.”
The Carolina infield consists of Jonah Bride at third base, Marcus Mooney at shortstop, DC Arendas at second and Tolbert at first. The four infielders have combined for five home runs.
Holbrook said Stokes could see time at third, second or first moving forward.
“I don’t have to show you the stats. It’s not like our infielders bang the ball around,” Holbrook said. “They get some hits, but they don’t knock the walls down. Madison can split some alleys and hit a few balls out of the park and increase our extra-base hit total.”
Stokes will likely see time at DH this weekend if Destino is unable to play against Tennessee after crashing into the wall at Vanderbilt last weekend.
Holbrook told reporters Thursday of Destino that, “I’m a little bit doubtful right now he’s going to be available.”
No matter where Stokes plays he is ready to contribute after a rough start to the season.
“It’s been pretty tough. It hasn’t been easy just sitting there watching. I’m still part of the team. I can still help out within the dugout, but when I finally get back out there I feel more contributing to the team,” Stokes said. “I’m just kinda gonna do whatever they tell me to do and try to help out anyway possible.”
Stokes believed he was in for a big year this season after being named a Coastal Plain League All-Star this past summer and playing well in the fall, and he knows he still has time to be a major contributor.
“I was excited to get this year going. This fall I felt like I did pretty good. I felt really good with my bat and playing a little bit of third and second and first,” he said. “I was really excited to get the season going, and then that happened. It was definitely tough to go through that, but now we’re back on track and hopefully I can get going.”