The Daily Gamecock

The state of the South Carolina baseball program heading into 2023

<p>FILE—Head coach Mark Kingston talks to his team after a game against Gardner-Webb on March 15, 2022. The Gamecocks finished the 2022 season 27-28.&nbsp;</p>
FILE—Head coach Mark Kingston talks to his team after a game against Gardner-Webb on March 15, 2022. The Gamecocks finished the 2022 season 27-28. 

Once a program competing for championships, South Carolina baseball reached an unfamiliar low in 2022. The Gamecocks finished 27-28 (13-17 SEC), marking its first losing season since 1996. 

Between injuries and inconsistent play, this was not the season South Carolina had envisioned. 

“The emotion is just disappointment in not having the success in the win-loss column that we know is expected, but also keeping the context of why that happened,” head coach Mark Kingston said.

Despite dealing with much adversity, fifth-year outfielder Andrew Eyster said the team was able to come together as "a bunch of grinders."

"There were a lot of ups and downs throughout the season, but we clearly never gave up and kept fighting to the end," Eyster said. "It wasn't the outcome we had hoped for, but it's how it goes sometimes."

Throughout the season, injuries hindered the pitching staff, which Kingston said had a long-term affect on how the team played. 

“There are days I look up and say, ‘Man, how’d we win that many?’” Kingston said. “And there are days that you look up and you say, 'Man, if we had this guy or that guy, just two or three of the 10, it’s a completely different season.'”

South Carolina played without two starting pitchers for much of the season — redshirt junior Julian Bosnic and junior James Hicks. This unforeseen circumstance forced the team to have unproven arms pitch meaningful innings. 

Junior right-hander Noah Hall quietly stepped into the Friday night slot and progressed as the season went on. Over a two-month period, Hall saw his ERA drop from 9.42 to 4.34. His best outing came against Kentucky where he pitched eight shutout innings and struck out eight batters. 

Freshman right-hander Cade Austin thrived in a long relief role, pitching to a 3.17 ERA — the lowest on the team. 

The Gamecocks couldn’t sustain success on the mound with a combined 5.41 ERA amongst all pitchers. 

“We’ve been through so much adversity and so much struggle and injuries with everybody out,” sophomore right-hander Will Sanders said. “We’ve just tried to find ways to win games and it’s hard.”

Even offensively, South Carolina could never put it all together. 

In Chad Caillet’s first season as the team’s hitting coach, the offense finished last in the SEC in batting average, slugging and on-base percentage. 

Kingston pointed out that the bottom of the team’s lineup consisted of freshmen, which he said was the biggest reason for the offense’s unevenness. 

Freshmen combined to bat .181 with four home runs and 62 RBI in 558 plate appearances this season.

“The top half of our lineup on most days could go head-to-head with just about anybody in the league,” Kingston said. “But then the bottom of our lineup was a bunch of freshmen that are still needing to get stronger, still getting at-bats at this level, playing at the SEC level, which is the highest level of college baseball for the first time.”

The Gamecocks will be relying on the young players to fill the voids in the lineup next season. Fifth-years Brandt Belk and Andrew Eyster, the team's most productive hitters, will not be back. In addition, senior first basemen Josiah Sightler and junior second baseman Braylen Wimmer have the option to explore professional baseball.

The leading hitter returning would be freshman shortstop Michael Braswell, who struggled at times but finished batting .284.

“Trying to put together runs and rallies with freshmen when a guy’s out there throwing 98, it’s a challenge,” Kingston said. “Those guys will learn from it. They’ll get better from it, they always do.”

Despite all the struggles, Kingston's job remains safe as he will return for his sixth season. Though, as a long offseason begins, the pressure will be on South Carolina to get back to the postseason in 2023.