Columbia, South Carolina is the next destination of our conference-wide baseball preview segment. The Gamecocks were at one point the toast of college baseball, winning the College World Series in 2010 and ‘11, and finishing as the runner up in 2012.
But the Gamecocks have fallen on hard times in recent years. Carolina hasn’t been back to Omaha since 2012 and last season finished 26-26 overall including 8-22 in SEC play.
To help us gain a little more clarity on how South Carolina tries to get back to the top of the college baseball mountain is the very funny Katie Dzwierzynski of Garnet and Black Attack. Definitely shoot her a follow on Twitter @kdzwierzynski.
1. 2019 was a rough year for Carolina. Gamecocks finished 28-28 and 8-22 in the SEC. I think we can agree that the SEC East has a clear cut top three in Georgia, Florida and Vanderbilt, so what’s a fair expectation for Carolina this year?
I think it’s completely reasonable to say a fair expectation is a College World Series title in 2020. Just kidding - even as GABA’s resident eternal sports optimist, I have to keep some grip on what’s actually plausible. In all seriousness, I think a solid playoff appearance is a fair expectation for the Gamecocks. We maybe got a bit spoiled with some really, really good teams for a while there, but there’s also an annual expectation that Carolina’s baseball team is going to be more than just middle of the pack. If those three teams you mentioned also wanted to have down years, I wouldn’t be opposed.
2. What’s Carolina’s weekend rotation looking like? Is it a staff that can win a crucial road SEC series?
I think Carmen Mlodzinski and Brett Kerry are the top two guys in the rotation, but the third spot is kind of TBA right now. Mlodzinski was just named a preseason All-American, and he’s coming back from a season in which a foot injury knocked him out in March. Kerry missed all fall because of an injury. Both have shown they can be great, so if that comes through on the mound this year, I feel pretty confident they can help clinch some wins for USC. As for that third spot, one name to watch is Thomas Farr, who’s a junior college transfer.
3. Let’s imagine a scenario where it’s the bottom of the ninth inning and the Gamecocks have the winning run on second. Who’s the player you want at the plate in this situation?
Andrew Eyster is a guy who heated up last season and did a lot of good hitting, even when the team overall wasn’t looking great. There are a lot of new faces on the team this year, and a couple of the guys we could depend on for big plays in seasons past aren’t on the team anymore, so I think Eyster is a guy who could kind of bridge that gap between the old veterans and the newcomers, and he’ll be counted on to kind of anchor the lineup and come through when we need a guy in the clutch.
4. Let’s flip it. Carolina is now protecting a one-run lead and the opponent has the winning team on second. Mark Kingston goes to the bullpen, who do you want on the mound?
Graham Lawson was a guy who was used a lot in crucial moments like that in 2018, but then he missed all of 2019 because he had Tommy John surgery in the offseason. If he can perform this season the way he did two years ago, I think he’s a guy who can be counted on to come through in those crucial situations. In a perfect world, the Gamecocks would just build a lot of big leads and then we won’t even have to worry about this.
5. If the Gamecocks do have a successful 2020, what will be the reason for it?
Because I personally am tired of watching ungood sports teams (shout out to our women’s hoops team tho, they sustain us through the tough seasons in other sports). We endured a really bad football season and we deserve to balance that out with an excellent baseball season. Also because Kingston isn’t brand new anymore. This will be his third season at USC, so there’s pressure to get some real results now. And for all the guys who were there last season, I don’t think there was a lot of happiness with how the season ended, so there’s gotta be some motivation there, not wanting to repeat that and have another year where they don’t make it to the postseason.