Note: Throughout the baseball season, I'm going to attempt to give weekly series recaps, but you and I both know that won't happen all the time. But, hey, I'm batting 1.000 for now!
It was a less than inspiring opening weekend for South Carolina baseball, despite the series win over the Liberty Flames. It was the first time since 2009 that the Gamecocks were unable to sweep its opening opponent, and a dramatic comeback was needed to even salvage the series.
Of particular concern is that South Carolina committed five errors this weekend—although oddly enough, the only game in which they committed no errors was the loss. Joey Pankake and Chase Vergason (also known as the entire left side of the infield) were guilty of two errors each. Vergason's were both throwing errors, which more forgiving fans may temporarily excuse since he transitioned from second base, a position requiring a far shorter putout toss. But Pankake's errors? Through-the-wickets, Little League flubs, one of which led to a whopping four unearned runs. If memory serves, Pankake was slow to settle on defense in 2012, but one would have thought such freshman hiccups were bygone. Alas.
Here's how the games shook out:
Friday's game was the only of the three in which the Gamecocks never trailed. Senior 1B LB Dantzer proved the offensive stud, reaching base three times on two hits, including a home run in his first at bat. Less inspiring were the first-year tandem of Max Shrock and Graham Saiko, who combined to go 0-6 on the day (and only 4-23 [.173] on the weekend.) Jordan Montgomery posted a satisfactory opening line (6 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 5 K) although he had to pitch out of his fair share of jams due to errors. Liberty left a whopping nine runners on base in Montgomery's six innings. In total, Liberty left 14 runners on base, which really smarts in a one-run loss. Matt Price was no-doubt impressed by his successor, with senior Tyler Webb notching the 5 out save and mostly staving off inherited trouble in the 8th. Final score: 4-3, Gamecocks.
Saturday's game was postponed due to stinky weather, setting up a Sunday double-header. The Gamecocks' pitching staff allowed only two earned runs, which is a shame because Liberty scored seven total. In fact, Forrest Koumas was perfect through 3, and had only allowed a run on two hits through 6. But the 7th was disastrous. Three hits, two errors, two walks, a balk, and a hit batsman yielded six runs, five of them unearned. Much ballyhooed freshman Jack Wynkoop's debut lasted only four pitches, all of them balls (and he threw in a balk for good measure.) All of this amounted to a 7-0 Flames lead after 7 innings. But the final two innings reaffirmed this writer's preference for sports that don't allow teams to bleed game clocks (until we blow a late lead, that is.) South Carolina plated eight runs in the final two innings, capped by a wacky final play with the bases loaded and two outs in the 9th. Pinch hitter Kyle Martin lined a comebacker that ricocheted off pitcher Josh Richardson, leading catcher Trey Wimmer to scoop and fire to first. The throw was low, skipping off 1B Alex Close's glove and allowing Graham Saiko to score the winning run from second. A vintage 2011 CWS play! Final score: 8-7, Gamecocks.
The second half of the double header was shortened to 7 innings, which wouldn't allow for the late-inning heroics we'd so dearly need. Nolan Belcher's return to a weekend starting role was middling (5.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER) although he did strike out nine batters. He received little help from his offense, especially the bottom part of the order which went a combined 1 for 10. The 7th (and final) inning could have been something after a leadoff walk, but a poor Tanner English bunt led to a force out and second. English was then caught stealing for the second time of the series. A flyout later, the game was over. Game 3: 3-2, Flames.
SHEEPISH ADMISSION: I was only able to absorb the series through my Twitter feed, so I'll direct you elsewhere for a meatier wrap-up (like this Post and Courier piece). But remember, early season wobbles aren't uncommon—last year, our first two games were also one-run wins, although we did wallop VMI in the Sunday game. At any rate, I'd like to see a better showing from the bullpen—a weekend line of 7 IP, 8 hits, 7 walks, and 3 ER isn't acceptable, especially against a lesser (if not abysmal) opponent. Oh, yeah, and how about a blowout win (I'm talking >10 runs to <3 runs) to get those bats going? The Gamecocks will face Albany thrice next weekend, and I'll be curious to what degree Chad Holbrook fiddles with the lineup. Do we stay the course for a larger sample size, or is now the time for experimentation? Until Friday, we steep in anticipation.