The South Carolina baseball team found lots of success early this season, and a big piece of that puzzle has been junior slugger Wes Clarke, who is an offensive powerhouse for the Gamecocks.
Clarke is first in the NCAA with nine home-runs in fourteen games and posts an impressive .380 batting average with 18 RBI and a .960 slugging percentage as of March 17.
In a 12-4 February win over Winthrop, Clarke saw a career-high of three home runs, making him the first Gamecock to hit three homers in a single game since 2008, when Justin Smoak hit three out of the park against USC Upstate.
“He’s a great player that’s playing really, really well right now. He’s locked in. He’s strong. It's a simple swing,” head coach Mark Kingston said after the game against Winthrop. “I’ve said a million times what he is — he’s just a player who loves to play, and he’s locked in.”
After being voted Preseason All-SEC second team, Clarke has earned a number of awards since the season began, including two-time Co-SEC Player of the Week, two-time National Player of the Week for Collegiate Baseball and Perfect Game, and being named the February Player of the Month by the NCBWA.
“That kind of stuff motivates me and it’s great that people believe in me in that way. I feel like I’m confident in myself that I can play how people expect,” said Clarke in a pre-season media availability.
According to Clarke, the team has focused on the present throughout the season — as opposed to the future or past — which helps the players stay locked in.
“A big thing we have, even on our wrist bands right here, is '1-0 Today.' We don’t focus on our record from previous games or else we’d have a smorgasbord of things going through our mind,” Clarke said in a media availability prior to the game against The Citadel.
Clarke also contributes to uplifting the team's morale, along with junior outfielder Brady Allen, by finding ways to have fun on and off the field throughout the season. This includes sneaking random vocabulary words into press conferences and bringing props on the field to pass around.
“We’re all a really close team and we all have, obviously, a weird sense of humor so it makes it really fun to involve other people with it,” Clarke said.
Some props include a plastic scythe and battle axe that gets passed around in the dugout during games when someone gets a home run.
“That was actually our Halloween costume, that was part of it, and we decided it would be fun for whoever got a home run would get to have the staff for that time,” Allen said in a post-game press conference.
According to senior outfielder Andrew Eyster, having the props out on the field helps to relieve some of the nerves and pressure, especially during bigger games like game two of the Clemson series.
“It adds some fun to the game. The game can be a lot of pressure and I know that personally it can bring a lot of pressure and anxiety,” Eyster said after South Carolina’s series win over Clemson. “Whatever you can do to make it more fun and calm the nerves, it helps out tremendously.”