College Sports

South Carolina baseball opens SEC play with a top-25 matchup

Mark Kingston previews South Carolina baseball’s SEC season, first series vs. Georgia

South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston gives his thoughts on what will be key for the Gamecocks as they start SEC play and what he expects to see from top-10 Georgia as the Bulldogs come to Founders Park this weekend.
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South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston gives his thoughts on what will be key for the Gamecocks as they start SEC play and what he expects to see from top-10 Georgia as the Bulldogs come to Founders Park this weekend.

Scouting Georgia: The Bulldogs come to Columbia as a top-10 team whose early schedule featured just one top-150 opponent in RPI and some gaudy statistics along the way. As a team, UGA is hitting .308, which ranks fourth in the SEC and 20th nationally, while posting a 2.46 ERA that ranks 11th in the nation.

Senior LJ Talley is off to one of the best starts at the plate of anyone in the conference — his .450 batting average is second in the SEC, and his on-base percentage of .547 is third. Sophomore right-hander Emerson Hancock leads the pitching staff with a perfect 4-0 record and 0.38 ERA over 24 innings.

“They’re really good. They pitch really well, they strike a lot of guys out, they don’t walk much. They’ve got a speed-power combination, they hit over .300 as a team. It’s a complete team,” South Carolina coach Mark Kingston said. “This is coach (Scott Stricklin’s) fifth or sixth year now, so they’ve got it where they want it, there’s no doubt about it.”

Rotation watch: South Carolina’s pitching rotation remains a delicate balancing act for Kingston and pitching coach Skylar Meade. Freshman Wesley Sweatt, after getting his first career start last Friday against Valparaiso, will open again Friday, a tall ask for a rookie player.

“Where we are, he gives us the best option on Friday night,” Kingston said. “He’s throwing strikes, he’s had good success throwing Friday night against Clemson on the road. He’s shown us he can handle it. ... Not ideal to throw a freshman out there on Friday night in the SEC, but it’s what we need to do right now.”

The Gamecocks’ best pitcher of the season so far, junior Reid Morgan, will go Saturday. That, Kingston explained, is to ensure that if Sweatt needs extra help from the bullpen, the relievers who come in Friday would be more likely to get a day’s worth of rest before coming back to pitch Sunday, when the starter is currently TBA for Carolina.

Slow starts: Coming into 2019, sophomore second baseman Noah Campbell and junior closer Sawyer Bridges were two of the more hyped players on USC’s roster — Campbell was a preseason All-American, and Bridges was on the watch list for Stopper of the Year.

More than a quarter of the way through the season, however, they’ve both posted lackluster numbers. Campbell is hitting just .243, and his on-base percentage of .316 is the lowest of the Gamecock regulars.

“I think with Noah, he’s got in a little bit of a rut where we looked at a lot of video this week, and he’s probably using a little too much of his hands. He’s got elite hand-eye coordination, good hands, but we were looking at his video and his legs weren’t quite being used as much as they were this summer. So hopefully we identified what was holding him back just a little bit,” Kingston said.

Bridges, meanwhile, has just one save in five appearances and an ERA of 5.19. He’s given up five extra base hits in 8 2/3 innings. But Kingston continued to express confidence in his closer, chalking up his struggles to nagging injuries, not any mental blocks.

HOW TO WATCH

Who: No. 22 South Carolina (14-3) vs. No. 8 Georgia (15-2)

Where: Founders Park

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Saturday, 4 p.m.

Sunday, 1:30 p.m.

Radio: 107.5 FM in Columbia area

Watch: Streaming online on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN

Weather forecast: Humid and warm Friday, with temperatures in the 70s, but a possibility of scattered thunderstorms. Overcast with temperatures in the low 60s Saturday. Partly cloudy Sunday with temperatures topping out around 60 degrees.

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.

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