Holbrook not surprised by Martin’s success this season
After playing Bucknell and Presbyterian in the first week of the season, it’s not too surprising that the South Carolina baseball team is unbeaten after four contests.
What may take Gamecock fans by surprise, however, is the player that has taken them there.
After seeing limited playing time as a reserve in 2013, junior first baseman Kyle Martin has proven to be South Carolina’s biggest bat in a lineup that features preseason all-American selections Joey Pankake and Grayson Greiner.
After four games, Martin is hitting .692, with seven RBI and a home run, but coach Chad Holbrook said he hasn’t been totally taken aback by the production from his new every-day first baseman.
“He’s obviously older. He’s stronger; he’s more mature. He’s got some confidence going,” Holbrook said. “Kyle played very, very well this fall. He’s building upon that.”
Martin spent all of last season backing up LB Dantzler, seeing limited action at designated hitter and first base. He finished the season batting .288 with just two home runs; he is on pace to shatter both statistics.
The junior is understandably satisfied with his production thus far, but he is quick to point out that he and his teammates are still searching for their identity as a unit with just four games under their belts.
“Right now, it’s early in the season, so we’re just trying to build confidence and get everything situated,” he said. “Hopefully, everything continues for the weekend.”
Martin and the rest of the Gamecocks will face Eastern Kentucky in a three-game set at Carolina Stadium this weekend. The Colonels are 1-3 on the season, having lost their last three contests, but Holbrook said South Carolina would be remiss to overlook its upcoming opponent for several reasons.
“They’re going to throw three senior pitchers at us on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Their starting pitchers are experienced,” Holbrook said. “They’ve gotten off to a little bit of a slow start, but they’ve played some good teams.”
Before falling to Louisville on Wednesday, Eastern Kentucky opened their season with a three-game series against Alabama State. The Colonels went 1-2 in that opening set, but Holbrook noted that a win over Alabama State is no small task, considering the Hornets toppled Auburn earlier this week.
While Holbrook said Eastern Kentucky’s veteran pitching staff is a point of emphasis for the Gamecocks, the man those pitchers are throwing to could be an even bigger concern for South Carolina. Colonel senior Sean Hagen has been named to the Johnny Bench Award Watch List for the nation’s top catcher, and he has turned in a home run along with four RBIs so far this season.
When the Gamecocks take on Eastern Kentucky this weekend, there will be no significant roster shakeups. Junior Jordan Montgomery will start Friday, sophomore Jack Wynkoop on Saturday and freshman Wil Crowe on Sunday, and Pankake will continue to split time between third base and left field while DC Arendas and Elliott Caldwell jockey for playing time.
South Carolina received a blow when junior reliever Evan Beal sustained a back injury. He will require rest until at least the start of SEC play.
To the naked eye, this weekend’s tilt against Eastern Kentucky looks to be another walk in the park for the Gamecocks, but whether it’s just coach-speak or genuine caution, Holbrook is expecting the Colonels to put up a fight.
“I don’t think they’ll be phased at all coming into this type of environment,” Holbrook said. “We’ve got to be ready to go. We’ll need to play, and it’ll present a challenge for us.”