COLUMBIA -- Sawyer Bridges had a simple message after giving up the game-winning hits two weeks ago in a vital rubber match against Tennessee.
The junior promised after the game that it’s “not going to happen again” and he’s going to regain the trust of his teammates, the same trust he built last season as one of the better closers in the country down the stretch before battling early-season struggles and injuries this year.
Tuesday night he took the first step toward doing that.
“I would be lying if I said it didn’t get to me,” Bridges said. “I’m glad we got the win. I knew in a 3-3 ballgame, it’s just nice to not screw up a game for us. I was serious what I said after the game. I was just glad I was able to hold up my end tonight.”
The righty who was named in the preseason to the Stopper of the Year watch list given to the nation’s best reliever struggled out of the gate but looked like he returned to form Tuesday night.
He pitched one scoreless inning in a tie game — enough to pick up his second win of the year with the Gamecocks beating Charlotte 5-4 — striking out the side while pitching around a two-out double.
Of the 14 pitches he threw, 12 were strikes and his fastball topped out at 93 mph, the hardest he’s thrown all year.
He stuck with his unique arm angle but the pitcher who is usually at 83 mph on his fastball ratcheted it up to a place he hadn’t been since his freshman season.
“Dang, I got way more than that and I wondered if I could let it rip,” he said. “I did, and the guy swung through it, so I knew I was getting it up there.”
It’s been a rough start for Bridges, who came in with some fanfare built around a stellar sophomore season that saw him finish with a 1.35 ERA, 1.149 WHIP and a K/BB of 2.77.
After battling a shoulder injury his freshman year, he changed his arm angle and was the Gamecocks’ closer entering the season before a tough start to the year.
He blew three save situations, including one against Tennessee in the ninth inning, prompting his comments about earning back his teammates’ trust.
He had to work through arm trouble with head coach Mark Kingston saying some days his arm felt great and another day it could be fatigued.
“I could sit here and say it’s not fair, but it’s the hand I was dealt,” Bridges said. “The level of effort and what I bring to the mound is the same when I was 80 to 83 earlier in the season and when I hit 93 tonight.
"That part is really frustrating, but I’ve been successful in managing that in the past. Last year I did it. It’s a matter of me getting guys out if my arm feels good or if my arm doesn’t feel good.”
His performance Tuesday gives the Gamecocks (20-13, 3-9 SEC) optimism heading into a weekend series with Florida this Thursday.
“The win was great and we did a lot of great things, but to me that was the highlight of the night seeing that guy was still in there,” Kingston said. “Every time we put him out that’s what we were hoping to see. That’s the best he’s been by far this year.”