The Daily Gamecock

South Carolina baseball experiences ups-and-downs midway through the season

<p>FILE—Freshman outfielder Thad Ector and players from the baseball team sit along dugout prior to their game against Vanderbilt.</p>
FILE—Freshman outfielder Thad Ector and players from the baseball team sit along dugout prior to their game against Vanderbilt.

At the halfway point in the season, the South Carolina baseball team sits right under .500 with a record of 13-14.

The Gamecocks' season has been up-and-down, as the team won a series against No. 1 Texas and No. 4 Vanderbilt, but dropped midweek games to The Citadel and Presbyterian College. 

Although head coach Mark Kingston said he is “not ready to write any summaries on the season yet,” there are some recurring themes. 

Plate inconsistencies and injuries have been a season-long concern for the Gamecocks.

Freshman shortstop Michael Braswell was a leading force offensively to start the season but has since cooled off, going 4-for-43 with 14 strikeouts over the last eleven games. Braswell’s batting average has dropped from .429 to .292 in that span.

Fifth-year outfielder Andrew Eyster has gotten off to a fast start and is doing everything he can to keep it up. Eyster ranks among the top of the team with his .333 batting average and impressive 27 RBIs.

"Going into the season, that was my biggest goal, was to drive in as many runs as possible and be the guy that the team relies on to do that, especially in the tough spots," Eyster said.

Transfers have made a large impact on the offense, with fifth-year first baseman Brandt Belk and senior third-baseman Kevin Madden leading the charge.

Kingston says Belk is “vitally important for our offense” because of how he helps set the tone for the entire team. 

Leading the team with a .347 batting average, Belk has been an irreplaceable bat for the Gamecocks and has been the guy to count on for a hit amid his current 16-game hitting streak.

Madden has been just as reliable, batting .296 with only 10 strikeouts this season. On the defensive side of the ball, he’s also made his fair share of highlight plays up to this point.

Overall, the Gamecock's offensive numbers aren’t the most impressive, but a little perspective helps. South Carolina has faced two top-five pitching staffs between Tennessee and Vanderbilt who rank first and fifth in ERA respectively.

Looking at the mound, South Carolina’s top pitchers this season are young. Sophomore right-hander Will Sanders and freshman left-hander Matthew Becker are permanent installments in the starting rotation alongside junior right-hander Noah Hall.

Meanwhile, redshirt freshman right-hander Cade Austin has been the most effective reliever so far, boasting a bullpen-best 3.42 ERA and leading full-time pitchers with two saves.

“Obviously, future’s bright for us with all these guys,” Austin said about the rotation. “They do a great job just going out there competing. You can see them, nobody’s really scared to go out there, so I think that’s awesome.” 

Freshman right-handed reliever Aidan Hunter is making a name for himself as well. He is tied with Sanders for the most wins on the team at four in his 11 appearances. Hunter was one of seven freshmen to have played in the series-deciding game against Vanderbilt.

Looking forward to the back half of the season, Kingston simply put that "health" is what the team needs to work on most. 

The Gamecocks’ pitching staff has dealt with six injuries this season, including sophomore Jack Mahoney, junior James Hicks and redshirt junior Julian Bosnic who were all probable starters.

After getting through what the team referred to as "the gauntlet," South Carolina will look to remain healthy in its remaining 27 games, including a series against No. 10 Ole Miss and No. 23 Georgia.


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