After the Gamecocks won the Palmetto Series on the baseball diamond for the first time in five years, Mark Kingston and company were understandably elated. And like past weekends, Kingston came away knowing more about his team.
South Carolina (9-2) took care of business Sunday with a resounding 14-3 win over the Tigers and now head into a five-game week with plenty of momentum. Here are five takeaways from the weekend series.
1. Sunday aggression pays off -- After a Saturday loss highlighted by several runners left on base and a number of strikeouts looking, Kingston stressed the need for selective aggression at the plate.
Sunday, the Gamecocks swung early and often, and it paid off.
South Carolina chased Clemson starter Justin Wrobleski after scoring five runs through six batters. Wrobleski threw 18 pitches and the Gamecocks swung at 12, putting five in play and building an early lead.
With ace Reid Morgan on the mound, the Gamecock hitters never looked back, instead staying aggressive and continuing to put up crooked numbers.
Overall, eight of South Carolina’s 17 hits came with no strikes, six on the first pitch. TJ Hopkins went 4-5 while seeing just 12 pitches — six of which came in his opening at-bat.
2. Bullpen strength -- It was unreasonable to believe that South Carolina’s bullpen would maintain its ridiculous 0.77 WHIP it had through last weekend all season, but the unit continues to shine. Aside from an uncharacteristic Saturday performance (In which the relievers combined to allow six hits and six runs in 6-2/3 innings), the bullpen was again brilliant.
3. Morgan’s confidence (And what to do with him) -- Reid Morgan allowed his fifth and sixth 3-ball counts of the season in the first inning of Sunday’s game. After that, just nine of the 23 remaining batters saw ball two, going 1-9 with an infield single (that was originally ruled an out).
It’s tempting to move Morgan in the rotation, but there are better options that allow Morgan to stay the Sunday starter. South Carolina should explore those first.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
4. About those analytics -- Mark Kingston won over some fans this weekend (as a series win over the rival will do sometimes), but more importantly, he did it his way.
The Gamecocks slugged .560 on the weekend (just under their season average of .571). A big part of that trend is the focus on launch angle and exit velocity, two mathematical metrics attached to common knowledge baseball practices that the coaching staff stresses.
The numbers help assess trends and aid coaching decisions. In a sport as weird as baseball, hard luck can influence the game as much as pure skill. The metrics look into trends like cold streaks at the plate to help determine whether a player is struggling or just running into bad luck and good defense.
The Gamecocks’ use of numbers is really paying off.
5. Callil earns his spot -- George Callil started in place of Nick Neville at shortstop on Saturday, batting in the 9-hole and keeping the spot in Sunday’s rubber match. Callil’s offensive production wasn’t overly exciting — 1-6 with a double, walk and hit-by-pitch in the two games — but his defense was stellar.
As the 9-hole hitter, Callil can get away with hitting in the .260-range if he can put together decent at-bats and continue to play excellent defense.
Senior outfielder T.J. Hopkins has been named the Southeastern Conference Baseball Player of the Week while freshman righthanded pitcher Brett Kerry was named the conference's Co-Freshman of the Week.
Hopkins also was named a National Player of the Week by Collegiate Baseball Magazine.
South Carolina faces The Citadel in Columbia at 4 p.m. Tuesday on SEC Network.