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Who is Mark Kingston? Getting to know South Carolina’s new baseball coach

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Don’t knock the hire just yet; his resume’s pretty good.

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I will have to admit: my first impression of the news of Mark Kingston’s hiring was “meh”. I thought that Ray Tanner would go with a much more “accomplished” name, certainly a Kevin O’Sullivan at Florida (before he won the College World Series), Josh Holliday at Oklahoma State or possibly Dan McDonnell at Louisville.

So, no, Mark Kingston isn’t a sexy hire. And I hadn’t heard much about him before he became the frontrunner for the South Carolina job.

After doing a little digging on Kingston, maybe it’s not that bad a hire. From 2002-2008, he was on Tulane’s staff, where his recruiting helped the eventual CWS-bound Green Wave end up as the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament in 2005. Before that, he was at Miami, and I don’t need to tell you too much about the stature of that program. Stops at Purdue and a initial one-year stint at Illinois State came prior to that.

Kingston returned to Illinois State, first as associate head coach, before being bumped to head coach in 2010. He was able to lead the Redbirds to regionals for the first time since 1994 in his first year. Yes, that was the only time they went when he was there, but for a program that averaged 22.6 wins in the five years before he arrived and averaged 34 in his five years as coach (thanks to some strong in-state recruiting), he had a pretty blank canvas to paint on to start with. Going up against Wichita State, Creighton and (later) Dallas Baptist, who are no slouches in the game of baseball, has a little to do with it, too.

That got him the job at USF and the rest is history. The Bulls hadn’t been to regionals since 2002. A top-ten recruiting class later, they found themselves there for the second time in three years last month. Sensing a theme?

One name to watch for that might come as a package deal if he’s not elevated to Kingston’s old spot? USF pitching coach Billy Mohl, who played for and coached with Kingston at Tulane and has been with him ever since.

“Mohl has turned the pitching staff into a force to be reckoned with in his three years here,” Nathan Bond, from our sister site, The Daily Stampede, told me. “He turned football player turned pitcher Tommy Eveld into a shutdown closer who ultimately got drafted in 2016 and is tearing it up. He also coached former closer Jimmy Herget who was selected to the MLB Futures Game this year.”

Eveld “tearing it up”? You can say that again. The 23-year-old, in the Diamondbacks organization after Arizona took him in the ninth round, was 2-1 with a 1.86 ERA in 29 innings with their Short Season A-ball team in Hillsboro, Oregon last year. This year, he has an 0.98(!) in 33.1 innings with Kane County in the Class A Midwest League. Herget’s been decent in AA and AAA ball thus far in 2017, holding a 2.70 ERA in 36.2 innings out of the pen.

That lends itself to the fact that Kingston and his staff have built this program on strong arms. USF pitching had a 3.24 staff ERA, tenth in the country. They struck out 620 men, the fifth highest total in the country. Their 10.9 Ks-per-9 ratio was best in Division 1, while their K/BB ratio of 2.74 was in the top 25 nationally. While their ERA was more than a run higher in 2016, they still were top 10 in Ks-per-9 and top 20 in strikeouts.

Games won on great pitching. What program does that remind you of?

So, in short:

  • Kingston saw immediate success in his first years at his previous stops and was able to sustain it, largely. At ISU, keeping them at the top of The Valley, even if they didn’t make regionals, was enough because it was far from a premier job. The same could probably be said about USF to at least some extent. At South Carolina, if he gets the team back to regionals in year one and no further (considering the Gamecocks have missed it twice in three seasons), he’ll be OK, but he’ll face immense pressure to get them beyond that point in future years. Whether he can do it and keep cool in what is one of the most demanding jobs in college baseball is one of my main concerns, but he deserves a fair shake along with anyone else.
  • He can recruit. Selling a program with a rabid fanbase, great facilities, a couple of national championship trophies in the case and the opportunity to play in the best baseball conference in the country - things he didn’t have at his previous stops? Not a whole lot of arm twisting required, I think. “(He) left the cupboard well stocked for the next coach. Kingston can recruit with the best of them,” Nathan Bond told me.
  • He values great pitching. He had plenty of it at previous stops. He’ll be able to restock the cupboard before long based on his and Mohl’s (if he comes here) track record of recruiting and development.

I’m on board. And while he’ll have a lot to prove to a skeptical fanbase, all they should give him is a chance. Who knows? He could be a home run.

Oh, and one other thing: