The Daily Gamecock

Gamecock baseball exceeds expectations, plagued with injuries in inconsistent 2023 season

<p>FILE — The University of South Carolina baseball team circles up prior to its game against the University of Florida on April 21, 2023. The Gamecocks defeated the Gators 5-2 and ended its season with a record of 42-21.</p>
FILE — The University of South Carolina baseball team circles up prior to its game against the University of Florida on April 21, 2023. The Gamecocks defeated the Gators 5-2 and ended its season with a record of 42-21.

South Carolina's baseball experienced a lot of highs throughout the 2023 season, but due to a vast amount of injuries to key players, the Gamecocks had troubles with maintaining success during the tough SEC schedule at the of the season.

Touting a lineup full of new transfers, the Gamecocks entered the season ranked No. 23. With the team's underperformance from the previous season in mind, head coach Mark Kingston told his team and staff to “focus on the things you can control and that you can have an impact on and let everything else just be what it is.” 

The Gamecocks got off to a hot start going 9-0 before dropping its first game of the season to in-state rival Clemson. However, the Gamecocks would go into conference play on an eight game win streak.

Despite its early success, the Gamecocks were then hit with multiple injuries mid-season, affecting the team’s lineup. Fifth-year infielder Will McGillis was the first to go down after being hit by a pitch against Missouri. This injury made McGillis miss 24 games.

The Gamecocks elected to start true freshman infielder Will Tippett in his place at second base. While Tippett contributed to the Gamecocks' offense, the loss of McGillis was a loss of veteran experience.

“(When) you lose a guy that had 10 homers in 23 games, it's a loss,” Kingston said. “But we're going to have to have the 'next man up' mentality.” 

Senior pitcher Noah Hall's start against Mississippi State was the last time he pitched in a Gamecocks uniform, as he went down with lower back injury that kept him out for the rest of the season. Hall boasted a 5-1 record and a 3.29 ERA over seven starts. 

South Carolina would go on to lose its first series to then No. 4 Vanderbilt, its fifth SEC opponent. Kingston attributed part of the loss to poor defense, as the Gamecocks totaled eight errors over the three games.

The Gamecocks followed the Vanderbilt defeat with its last series win of the season against then No. 3 Florida, a performance that moved the Gamecocks' rank up to No. 3, its highest of the season. 

Following the Florida series, South Carolina lost 11 of its last 15 games and finished the season unranked.

“If you were inside that locker room, you would understand that we’re all very frustrated, but this team shows up the same way we did the first two and a half months,” then junior pitcher Jack Mahoney said after splitting a doubleheader against then No. 13 Tennessee to end the season. “We got banged up towards the end of the year when it mattered and had to make a lot of adjustments.”

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The Gamecocks saw more absences at the end of its regular season from sophomore catcher Talmadge LeCroy and senior infielder Braylen Wimmer, who both suffered hamstring injuries.

Junior infielder Gavin Casas and sophomore catcher Cole Messina also each fought minor ailments that kept them out for a handful of games. All four returned to action by the time the SEC Tournament got started, but their injuries caused major shifts in the lineup, which increased the loss of veteran experience and defensive sharpness. 

Junior pitcher Will Sanders also got injured during a game against Kentucky. Sanders was key for the Gamecocks pitching in Hall's absence, and losing him meant that the Gamecocks had only one weekend starter remaining from their opening weekend. He later returned for regionals, after missing out on the SEC Tournament.

“We knew we were enduring some pretty unprecedented things in terms of everybody (having) injuries, but to have so many key ones and to have to move so many pieces around, we just had to weather the storm,” Kingston said after the team defeated Campbell.

In the SEC Tournament, The Gamecocks did not fare much better. South Carolina was eliminated after three games, with the final game being a shutout to Texas A&M. 

Despite the sudden drop in form, the Gamecocks hosted the NCAA Regionals, which featured Central Connecticut State, NC State and then No. 12 Campbell. The Gamecocks swept its regional, scoring 41 runs over three games and moving on to face then No. 2 Florida in Gainesville. 

“We’re (in Florida) to compete,” Kingston said before the NCAA Super Regionals. “We want to do everything we can to try to come out of here with a chance to go to Omaha, but we also know we’re playing one of the elite teams in the country, so we’re going to have to be on top of our game. But we’re going to enjoy the heck out of it and go out there and see what we can do.” 

Despite the return of offensive production in the regional tournament, the Gamecocks would be eliminated in two games against Florida in the super regionals, ending its season. 

One of the many bright points for the Gamecocks was freshman infielder and outfielder Ethan Petry, who hit .376 in his first year of collegiate baseball. 

"(This season) was probably one of the greatest experiences of my life," Petry said, "I met one of my best friends, and all of my bestest friends now and they're great kids, and I made a great friendship with Jack (Mahoney) and he's been a great mentor for me, same with Braylen Wimmer, Will McGillis and Caleb Denny. Like, they're great kids and it sucks to seem them leave, but it's just the way life goes." 

After its season, the Gamecocks had eight notable departures from the team over the summer, six of which were selected in the MLB Draft in July.

The first Gamecock off the draft board was Mahoney, who was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the third round. Shortly after Mahoney's selection, Sanders was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the fourth round. Hall was then selected by the New York Mets in the seventh round, completing the trio of weekend starting pitchers.

Wimmer was only position player selected from the Gamecocks. He was selected in the eighth round of the draft, also by the Colorado Rockies. Redshirt junior pitcher James Hicks was then selected by the Houston Astros in the 13th round and redshirt sophomore pitcher Cade Austin was selected by the New York Yankees in the 19th round.

McGillis ran out of NCAA eligibility and signed a minor league contract with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent.

Two notable Gamecock players also transferred out of the program. Fifth-year infielder Kevin Madden entered the transfer portal in March and is headed to the College of Charleston. Sophomore pitcher and infielder Michael Braswell transferred to LSU following the end of the season.