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SPORTS LIBRARY, South Carolina, USC, baseball

COLUMBIA -- Coming into the season, there was an assumption that a young pitching staff still learning how to pitch at the college game would give up their fair share of walks.

They have, giving up the most walks in the SEC so far, but head coach Mark Kingston’s been pleased with their output roughly halfway through the season.

“Truthfully they’re doing better than we thought they would,” he said. “Based on the stats through the fall and the spring facing our hitters, their walks are down from what we saw in practice. I think they’re doing the best they can right now.”

Gamecock pitchers have issued an SEC-worst 119 free passes through 29 games this year, an average just over four per game.

They added eight more in an 11-3 loss to North Carolina, including six coming home to score Tuesday.

They used eight pitchers, five of which were freshmen and two others were junior college transfers.

Kingston said those pitchers are the ones the Gamecocks have to rely on moving forward, so it’s about making sure the spend a little more time working on stressing the importance of pounding the zone.

“They’re doing the best they can right now,” Kingston said. They’re pitching and walking guys at a much lower rate than in our scrimmages. At this point I think we just have to maximize.”

John Gilreath, who started off the year giving up no runs in his first three outings, was pitching as two runs came across the plate, including the game-tying one in the sixth.

Over his last two appearances, he’s pitched just one full inning and given up two hits and walked another.

Kingston said he was frustrated with Gilreath, who came in with runners on and started with two strikes on a hitter before walking him on four straight balls, but the freshman just has to keep improving.

“I still think he needs to have a growth mindset; he needs to keep getting better. He’s dealing with the ups and downs of a freshman,” Kingston said. “He’s a guy that’s supposed to be a senior in high school. He’s riding the waves of ups and downs right now.”

It’ll be those pitchers more than likely that the Gamecocks will use this weekend as they try to take a series on the road against No. 9 Kentucky.

With weather looking like it’ll force a doubleheader Sunday, Kingston said “everything’s on the table” and there’s no set plan heading into a big weekend.

The good news for him and pitching coach Skylar Meade is no one out of the bullpen threw more than 32 pitches, so everyone will be fresh and ready to go for Friday’s first pitch.

“The way we used guys last night was to get them in, get them out,” Kingston said. “That doesn’t affect who we use this weekend. We’ll have everybody available this weekend because of that.”

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