Despite the disappointment of Sunday (damn you, Mother Nature) the Gamecocks of South Carolina and Florida Gators went at it last weekend as the top two teams in the SEC and top 5 teams nationally. The Gamecocks saw some special starting pitching, Tyler Johnson was clutch in crunch time, Gene Cone is really good at hitting baseballs and the newly dubbed Founder's Park found its mojo again.
Twin Aces: Despite the blown save Friday night, Clarke Schmidt was nothing short of impressive in his start against the #1 Florida Gators. Friday night Schmidt went 6.1 innings with 6 strikeouts and allowed 3 runs, with only 1 of those runs earned. Clarke Schmidt is night and day from where he was last year, and continues to prove that as he mostly stifled the #1 team in the country Friday night. The Gamecock's excellent starting pitching didn't end after Friday night, however, Braden Webb continues to prove that he has Major League caliber stuff as he shut down the Gator offense Saturday and went pitch for pitch with projected top-5 draft pick AJ Puk out of Florida. Webb went 7.1 innings Saturday night with 7 strikeouts and really only made one mistake all night. That mistake turned into a solo homerun for Florida in the top of the 2nd. However, Schmidt, a sophomore, and Webb, a freshman, continue to prove just how much potential they have. Those two are going to be a scary one-two punch for opposing teams going into the postseason.
Some Closer Controversy? Josh Reagan, who did not have his greatest outing Friday night, leads the SEC with 11 saves. He has been dynamite all year long. He simply did not have his best stuff Friday night as the Gators blasted two devastating solo homeruns. Tyler Johnson had a great Saturday night outing as he went 1.2 innings with 3 huge strikeouts. He slammed the door Saturday with this strikeout. Tyler occasionally touched 96 or 97 on the scouts radar guns. Will we see Tyler move into the closer role as the season winds down? I don't know. Tyler definitely is a more "traditional" closer than Josh Reagan in terms of pitch repertoire, however Josh has simply done too much to be thrown out of a role that he's played his way into. It is a good feeling to have knowing we have two excellent backend options out of the bullpen.
Gene Cone Is Good At Hitting: Gene Cone extended his hitting streak to 29 games and has reached base safely in 32 straight contests. I really don't know what else to say about our good friend Gene other than he's good at this game, and he's been an absolute pleasure to watch.
Rediscovering Our Mojo: Ever since last season's disappointment, Carolina Stadium (er, Founder's Park?) has seemed kind of quiet. Head coach Chad Holbrook has begged the fans to be louder during games, as it gives our team a momentum and emotional boost. During our championship run, our home field was dreaded by opposing teams, and we always felt that we had a chance to win no matter what the situation. While the Gamecocks have stayed in the top 15 and into the top 5 most of the year, and sat at 33-8 (and on top of the SEC) coming into the weekend, our homefield as felt like a funeral home more often than not. However, as the game Saturday night wore on into the later innings, there was a familiar buzz in the air in Columbia. We were sensing blood in the water, we were just waiting for the proverbial "kill-shot" from our Gamecocks. Gene Cone (did I mention he's really good?) proceeded to do this:
After that moment, and despite some tight moments that followed, I had no doubt that we would win this game. After that homerun, Founder's Park buzzed again. If you don't believe me, let's take a look at what the players had to say after the game Saturday:
Gamecock nation was electric tonight! We need you guys tomorrow so let's go get em! #GoCocks— madison stokes (@madisonstokes1) May 1, 2016
The atmosphere was craaazy tonight. Thank you Gamecock fans, let's get the series tomorrow! Don't sleep on the birds ..— DomThompson-Williams (@DTW42) May 1, 2016
Tyler Johnson: "The crowd was huge tonight. Honestly, the field was shaking."— TheBigSpur.com (@TheBigSpur247) May 1, 2016
These players appreciate your support when it is given. I believe we have a special team on our hands this year. Am I correct? Only time will tell. However, we should do everything as fans to help this bunch reach their potential.