Neil White

What went wrong: 5 reasons USC baseball struggled for most of season

USC and coach Chad Holbrook had multiple problems this season.
USC and coach Chad Holbrook had multiple problems this season. gmelendez@thestate.com

IT’S NOT HARD TO figure out what went wrong for the South Carolina baseball team this season.

The Gamecocks struggled across the board at various times on the way to a 32-25 mark, the team’s worst record since 1996. After starting the season with a 17-3 record, USC stumbled to go 15-22 the rest of the way.

That included a 13-17 record in the SEC, the first losing conference season since 1997, former coach Ray Tanner’s first season, as well as a 6-13 mark in road games, the first losing road record in seven seasons.

The five biggest issues:

HITTING

The Gamecocks batted .257, the lowest USC team average since 1973, when wood bats were still being used. The 315 runs scored and 484 hits were the fewest since 1979. Six players with significant at-bats hit .215 or under. First baseman Kyle Martin, second baseman Max Schrock and outfielder Elliott Caldwell carried the team for most of the season, but the lack of consistency throughout the rest of the batting order doomed the club.

PITCHING

After doing a standout job as the closer to start the season, right-hander Taylor Widener wasn’t able to maintain his stuff and his confidence down the stretch, which unsettled the entire bullpen. The shaky relief became a bigger factor after Wil Crowe went down with an elbow injury because he wasn’t there to eat innings. Other than left-hander Jack Wynkoop, who pitched very well down the stretch, none of the starters could supply reliable outings. The team ERA was 4.20, the worst since 2009, when the bats in college baseball were much hotter.

DEFENSE

Expected to be a strong suit, especially in the infield, the defense suffered key breakdowns too many times. Jordan Gore, who played shortstop, left field and third base, and Schrock, who played second base and left field, each made 13 errors. It didn’t help that players were shuffled from one position to another as the coaches looked for a lineup that would click. Not being able to replace former catcher Grayson Greiner’s skills behind the plate was huge. A lack of speed and good jumps in the outfield also led to more big innings than previous seasons. Ending the season with 61 errors in 57 games, the Gamecocks fielded .971, one of the three lowest percentages in the past 14 seasons.

INJURIES

In a season when the Gamecocks couldn’t afford many injuries, they had just enough to make a difference. The big one was to Crowe, who had Tommy John surgery to repair his right elbow. Shortstop Marcus Mooney missed several weeks with a hamstring injury that played a role in destabilizing the infield. And Schrock and Caldwell did their best to play through nagging injuries that kept them from putting up better numbers.

TALENT EVALUATION

This team lacked the star power that characterized previous teams, as only three everyday players batted over .257 and two regular pitchers posted an ERA under 4.00. The talent gap was made worse after three players who recently transferred out had huge seasons at other schools. Miami (Fla.) infielder George Iskenderian batted .391 with three homers, 47 RBIs and 22 stolen bases. Virginia Tech infielder Erik Payne batted .343 with nine homers and 53 RBIs. Winthrop outfielder Anthony Paulsen hit .352 with four homers, 44 RBIs and 15 stolen bases.

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