There’s an old baseball saying that says momentum is Clarke Schmidt.
OK, that’s not the saying. The saying is momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher. For South Carolina, that almost certainly means Schmidt on Sunday against Oklahoma State in Game 2 of the NCAA Super Regional.
“I’m pretty sure it’ll be Schmidt,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said.
The Cowboys have all the momentum at the moment, thanks to Saturday’s 5-1 victory in Game 1 on Saturday. Oklahoma State has won four straight games, eight of its last 10 dating back into the regular season and needs just one more to advance to the College World Series and end South Carolina’s season at the same time.
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“We’ve been saying it all year, we’ve been waiting to get hot,” said Cowboys catcher Collin Theroux, who hit a key three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning Saturday. “We finally found ourselves, found our groove from top to bottom. I wouldn’t even really call it hot. I would call it playing as good as we should be playing.”
In front of that train steps Schmidt, a sophomore right-hander who has been the Gamecocks’ No. 1 starter throughout the season. Holbrook pointed that out to his team Saturday in the locker room.
“It’s go with your best guy, and Schmidt has been our best guy all year long from a starting standpoint,” Holbrook said.
Schmidt is 9-4 with a 3.33 ERA. He hasn’t gotten past the fifth inning in his last three starts, and gave up a combined 13 earned runs in those games, but there’s no room for pessimism on the edge of the cliff where South Carolina is standing.
“I think our pitching staff has re-energized itself after a long weekend last weekend, and we have an opportunity in front of us,” Holbrook said. “Now we’re going to have to play some darn good baseball, but we have a chance with our best guys on the mound.”
Holbrook mentioned relievers Tyler Johnson and Josh Reagan in the same breath that he announced Schmidt as his likely starter, emphasizing by his phrasing he won’t hesitate to make a change at any time Sunday. That could be sooner than usual considering the temperature is expected to be 98 degrees at first pitch.
“Those are our best guys,” Holbrook said. “If we lose tomorrow, we will have lost with our best pitchers. If we play a great nine innings tomorrow, it’s all even and who knows what happens? I’d love to see Game 3 here in Founders Park. That’d be a great atmosphere, but we have to play some great baseball tomorrow.”
The home field hasn’t been kind to Super Regional participants this year, though. Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday pointed out before this series began that the home team is under more pressure than the visitors in the NCAA postseason because of the expectation to win, and through Saturday evening’s action, all six Super Regional home teams already had a loss.
South Carolina outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams dismissed the idea that the home field brought any extra pressure.
“I think of it as an advantage and I think everyone in Columbia, S.C., thinks of it as an advantage,” he said. “I think we need to come out and compete tomorrow and play like it’s our last game.”
If Schmidt doesn’t pitch well, it probably will be.