It's been nearly a full calendar year since the South Carolina baseball team last took the field. Due to COVID-19, the remainder of the 2020 season was cancelled in mid-March, leaving the club with a 12-4 record and thoughts of what could have been.
With a new season on the horizon, the No. 18 Gamecocks will host Dayton starting Friday in a three-game weekend series at Founders Park.
Head coach Mark Kingston announced his opening weekend starting rotation on Tuesday. Junior pitcher Thomas Farr will be on the mound on Friday, followed by junior Brannon Jordan on Saturday and sophomore Julian Bosnic on Sunday.
In three starts last season, Farr went 3-0 with a 1.72 ERA, striking out 14 and allowing an opponent batting average of .113. After Carmen Mlodzinski got selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2020 MLB Draft, it will be Farr’s turn to be the leader of the pitching staff.
"We feel really good about our entire weekend rotation. Farr, Jordan and Bosnic I think give us a chance every game we play to have success," Kingston said. "It could have been either one of those other guys, but we just felt like experience-wise and how he's been pitching and everything he does just screams that he can be a Friday night guy."
Kingston said the team "leaned with their gut" when it came to calling on Farr. He also said the top spot in the rotation could rotate throughout the course of the season.
A bulk of South Carolina’s starting lineup will be returning, led by juniors Brady Allen and Wes Clarke. As the team’s leadoff hitter, Allen saw a tremendous increase in almost every statistical offensive category from 2019 to 2020. In the shortened season, he batted .327 with a .571 slugging and .459 on-base percentage, along with three home runs.
"My coaches and even my teammates helped me out a ton," Allen said. "It's more of a, not even a mechanical side, just the approach and that's what a lot of people don't know and understand. I think I've gotten a lot more comfortable with that approach and I hope to carry it over into this season."
Clarke batted .286 in 16 games, hitting eight home runs and driving in 22 runs while slugging .714. He was named a Collegiate Baseball Preseason Third Team All-American.
"That kind of stuff actually motivates me," Clarke said. "It's great that people believe in me that way and I feel like I'm confident in myself that I can play how people expect."
With 13 freshmen on the roster, Kingston said the great majority of impactful freshman "will be on the pitching side." He noted Will Sanders, Travis Luensmann, Magdiel Cotto, Jack Mahoney and Jackson Phipps as players to keep an eye on.
In 2021, the Gamecocks will be facing eight preseason top-25 programs: No. 4 Vanderbilt, No. 1 Florida, No. 12 LSU, No. 8 Arkansas, No. 6 Ole Miss, No. 7 Mississippi State, No. 19 Tennessee and No. 9 Texas.
Allen smiled and said he believes the team will make it to the College World Series in Omaha this season.
On Friday, South Carolina will open their three-game series against the Flyers at Founders Park with first pitch at 4 p.m. The game can be streamed on SEC Network+.