The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: South Carolina baseball uses offensive firepower to sweep season-opening series against UMass Lowell

The South Carolina baseball team swept its season-opening series against UMass Lowell on Feb. 17, 18 and 19, 2023 at Founders Park. The Gamecocks outscored the River Hawks by a combined 49-5 score over the three games.

The No. 23 South Carolina baseball team put on an offensive clinic during its season-opening  three-game series against the University of Massachusetts Lowell at Founders Park.

The Gamecocks outscored the River Hawks by a combined 49-5 score over the three games, demonstrating the strength of the team at the plate up and down the lineup.

Game one

South Carolina opened its season with a 20-3 victory against UMass Lowell in the first game of the series.

Senior infielder Braylen Wimmer highlighted the day's offensive production, notching a hit in each of his five at-bats. Wimmer hit four singles and a home run at the plate.

“It was a bodacious day,” Wimmer said. “We have to keep building on it and carry it over.”

Fifth-year infielder Will McGillis also provided offensive production for South Carolina, hitting two home runs and contributing three RBIs. 

“Obviously, I saw the ball well today, like a lot of guys,” McGills said. “When you start feeling really good in baseball, you never know what things can end up getting catawampus.”

Junior pitcher Will Sanders was the game's starter and struggled to put batters away, facing seven batters in the second inning and five in the third, while giving up two runs. Sanders was pulled heading into the fifth inning after South Carolina scored five runs in a lengthy fourth inning.

“He just was not very sharp,” head coach Mark Kingston said. “He’s behind because he didn’t pitch last summer.”

Sophomore outfielder Carson Hornung produced from the top of the order, contributing five RBIs, scoring twice and walking once as the team's leadoff hitter.

“He’s as good as we have in terms of pitch selection,” Kingston said. “Sometimes you want a real fast leadoff hitter that can get on base a lot, we don’t necessarily have that. So the next step is you just put a real high on-base percentage guy up there, which he is.”

Freshman pitcher Austin Williamson pitched two shutout innings to end the game. Kingston said that Williamson had a little bit of “swagger” to him after striking out three batters. 

“Austin’s been a really good pickup for us as a freshman,” Kingston said. “He’s a guy that struggled a little bit in the fall, has made really good adjustments with (pitching coach Justin Parker), and what you saw tonight is what we’ve seen a lot of.”

Game two 

South Carolina continued its dominance of the River Hawks, winning the second game of the series 17-1 in front of over 7300 fans at Founders Park. 

Senior pitcher Noah Hall started the game for the Gamecocks and controlled play from the beginning, striking out four hitters over 5.1 innings and allowing just one run.

"He's progressed tremendously. Him and Coach Parker worked really hard on a lot of different things, and he’s just become one of the top pitchers in the country," Kingston said. "He showed that in the SEC last year with his stats and how he competed and gave us a chance to win. And now, he's looking like he's going to really build on that.”

Hall said he felt more comfortable compared to last season since he spent more time in the fall preparing to be a weekend starter compared to 2022. 

“Last year, I was thrown into that role, and I wasn't really prepared mentally or physically,” Hall said. “In the fall, I've been prepping to be a starter, and we’ve been on the same plan the whole year. So honestly, I felt more comfortable today, pitching on Saturday, then I did last year on Friday.” 

The South Carolina offense was able to feed off of three early River Hawks errors to gain momentum. 

Wimmer’s dominance carried over from Friday, as he launched a grand slam late in the fourth inning and drove in five runs in four at-bats. 

Junior first baseman Gavin Casas and McGillis responded with back-to-back home runs in the fifth inning, adding on to South Carolina’s lead. 

Sophomore catcher/infielder Talmadge LeCroy had another strong day, scoring two runs and adding two RBIs on three hits in his four at-bats. 

“He’s gotten a lot stronger. He takes great at-bats,” Kingston said. “He just takes professional at-bats where he swings at the right pitches, he can hit the ball all over the field, from line to line. He’s going to put the ball at play in RBI situations.” 

Junior outfielder Caleb Denny added a three-run home run as part of a 14-hit day for South Carolina. 

“I think there was guys in scoring position, so I was hitting something soft,” Denny said. “I just saw it out of the hand pretty well and put a good swing on it.”

Game three

After a slow start, the Gamecocks carried its offensive momentum from Friday's and Saturday's games into the series finale, which the team won 12-1.

South Carolina went hitless over the game's first three innings, but the team's bats woke up with a Denny double in the fourth inning and stayed hot for the rest of the contest.

The Gamecocks really exploded with six runs in the fifth inning, which started with a RBI single by Wimmer and included a three-run home run by sophomore catcher Cole Messina and a two-run home run by Casas. Kingston said the fifth inning was key to the Gamecocks' ability to turn the tide in the game.

"It was two outs, it was a man at second base, and Wimmer got that ball up the middle, and it just kind of released that pressure a little bit and allowed everybody to relax," Kingston said. "That's what you want your upperclassmen to do."

The Gamecocks' offense was also supported by the team's pitching staff, namely junior pitcher Jack Mahoney. Mahoney, who made his first start on the mound since an elbow injury in May 2021, delivered one of the best performances of his career, allowing zero runs over 5.2 innings and striking out a career-high nine batters. 

After being pulled in the sixth inning, Mahoney was met by hugs from teammates and loud cheers from the fans at Founders Park. Mahoney said it was a moment he would never forget.

"It was all worth it. I knew there was going to be a moment when I was working in the dark that I was like, 'Alright, you did the right thing,' and I think that was my moment," Mahoney said. "I caught a glimpse of my mom and dad, ... but I think the coolest moment for me was — obviously the fans were unbelievable — but looking out and seeing all my teammates and best friends coming to jump on me."

South Carolina's bullpen followed Mahoney's performance with a strong display of its own as three relief pitchers — redshirt sophomore Cade Austin, fifth-year Nick Proctor and sophomore Dylan Eskew — combined to allow only one hit over 3.1 innings.

Kingston said he was glad the team was able to showcase its depth at the plate and on the mound over the course of the entire weekend.

"Each game, they got at least three innings in of work, so they got at bats, they got defense. We were able to see some guys at different spots," Kingston said. "We're still in that stage where nothing is permanent with any of our guys ... if you're not in the starting lineup, when you get your chance, you need to get our attention, and a lot of guys have done that."

What's next

South Carolina returns to action in a pair of mid-week matchups against Winthrop on Tuesday and Queens on Wednesday, both at 4 p.m.