After splitting the first two games of the season, the Gamecocks were in danger of dropping its first season opening series since 1970. Clutch hits from fifth-year outfielder Andrew Eyster and freshman infielder Michael Braswell helped South Carolina rally back on Sunday and clinch the season opening series victory.
The Gamecocks showcased an offensive display of power in its first game against UNC Greensboro, winning 9-7.
Under new hitting coach Chad Caillet, the team's plate approach looked much improved, as they struck out only four times and scored six runs in two-strike situations.
"Coach Caillet is regarded as one of the better coaches in the country and I think you're going to see that," head coach Mark Kingston said. "I don't think there's any doubt you're going to see that, his impact with our guys."
Eyster led the charge, as he hit an RBI double off the top of the outfield wall in the first, followed by a two-run home run to the opposite field. He finished his afternoon with three hits in five at-bats.
Making his South Carolina debut, senior outfielder Matt Hogan crushed a solo home run in his first at-bat of the season. In the eighth inning, he delivered an RBI triple to provide an extra insurance run for the bullpen.
After spending the last three years with Vanderbilt, Hogan is hoping to be a fixture in the lineup.
"I'm just excited to play everyday," Hogan said. "That's pretty much where my head's at, and I take it day-by-day too. I try not to think too far ahead. I operate on like a 24-hour clock ... so right now my head's on tomorrow."
On the mound, sophomore right-handed pitcher Will Sanders shined in his first start of the season. After giving up a solo home run to the second batter he faced, he was able to find his groove, striking out three in five innings.
The Gamecocks added three runs in the eighth inning, highlighted by Braswell, who hit his first career home run.
South Carolina struggled to get into a rhythm offensively in its second game against the Spartans, losing 4-5.
South Carolina scored three of its four runs in the ninth inning. The game ended on a difficult pop out to Greensboro center fielder Bradley Bott, a ball that if dropped, likely would’ve scored the tying run and possibly even two, resulting in a walk-off.
“Greensboro played really good baseball today,” Kingston said. “I don’t think we played poorly; it just came down to that play at the end.”
Greensboro’s mix of pitchers kept South Carolina from scoring despite putting up 11 hits. South Carolina stranded 10 baserunners due to clutch performances by Greensboro pitchers Jared Mathewson and Alex Hoppe.
“[Greensboro’s] lefty [Mathewson] kept us off balance,” Kingston said. “They brought in a guy throwing 96 [Hoppe] and held us at bay for a while.”
Junior right-handed pitcher James Hicks made his first start for the Gamecocks. He showed flashes, throwing five strikeouts and zero walks, but ultimately struggled against a tenacious Greensboro offense, giving up nine hits and four runs in 4.1 innings.
“That's not how I drew it up,” Hicks said. “It does feel good to have the first one under my belt, but I got to be better.”
In contrast to Friday’s game, South Carolina’s bullpen was a bright spot. The five pitchers that came out of the bullpen only allowed four baserunners and one earned run, all of which came in the ninth inning.
Though the bullpen kept Greensboro’s offense in check, South Carolina ultimately fell one run short despite its offensive outburst in the ninth.
South Carolina erased a six-run deficit in the ninth inning on Sunday, as many Gamecocks came up clutch for an extra innings win over UNCG, 8-7.
The Gamecocks did not have a runner get past second base until the eighth inning, being held scoreless until a Braylen Wimmer single that same inning. The bats came calling when it was needed though, as Eyster came up clutch with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, hitting a grand slam and tying the game up on one swing.
"Some guys have that low heart rate when it really matters, and he had it," Kingston said, referring to Eyster's performance.
In the tenth inning, Braswell came in to pitch for the Gamecocks. He struck out the side, including the last two looking, leading into a walk off fielders choice hit in the bottom half of the inning.
"I can't really imagine anything better, personally," Braswell said on his opening weekend. "It wasn't even as nerve-racking as I thought it would be. That's something I've been doing it since 14, 15 years old."
Utility man Josiah Sightler made his first start of the season for the Gamecocks and struggled. Through 2.2 innings pitched, he gave up six hits and three earned runs. Behind him, the bullpen had a strong outing, combining for 7.1 innings of two-run ball, shutting down a good portion of the Spartans offense. 19 different Gamecocks played on Sunday afternoon.
"Complete team effort," Eyster said. "You got to be able to rely on everyone."
South Carolina will find itself back at Founders Park for a Tuesday afternoon midweek game against Winthrop. First pitch is slated for 4:00 p.m.