Going into the 2019 season, there were plenty of reasons to believe Mark Kingston might not have immediate results in his first year as South Carolina baseball coach.
The Gamecocks, coming off their second missed NCAA tournament in three seasons, had a starting pitching deficiency, more questions than answers in the bullpen and a veteran roster that had never quite performed up to lofty recruiting rankings under former USC skipper Chad Holbrook.
A pedestrian February gave way to a shaky March. There was another series loss to Clemson, a 1-5 start to SEC play, midweek losses to the likes of Furman and The Citadel and a general feeling that making the SEC Tournament, much less the NCAA Tournament, seemed somewhat far-fetched. Things bottomed out with another humbling midweek loss to Presbyterian, a setback that dropped the Gamecocks to 20-17 overall and all but seemed to seal the team’s postseason fate.
Monday night in Fayetteville, South Carolina finished up one game away from the College World Series, falling to Arkansas 14-4 in the deciding game of an NCAA super regional, the closest the Gamecocks have been to Omaha since 2013.
Sandwiched in between the above season-changing events was a whole lot of good baseball.
USC won its last five SEC series, made the NCAA tournament and swept through the Greenville, N.C., Regional. The run was reminiscent of some of Ray Tanner’s final teams at USC, only this time it was engineered by Kingston, who seemingly willed a roster that was in many ways flawed and depleted onto the heights most USC baseball fans have come to expect.
Despite Monday's rout of a loss, the run to game 3 of a super regional was perhaps the most remarkable in-season turnaround in program history. Consider some daunting factors going against the Gamecocks:
• Four regular starters missed significant time with injury.
South Carolina never really found that reliable third starting pitching option.
USC didn’t land a single player on an All-SEC team
The team played the year with only one left-handed option out of the bullpen, a freshman.
In short: Kingston got the absolute best out of his players, as has been his trademark at other stops. And after watching USC’s stretch run in 2018, Gamecock fans should be excited about that potential moving forward.
With a solid and surprising first season, the ability to construct his own roster, fan support rivaled by only a handful of other programs in all of college baseball and the resources and championship pedigree to attract top talent to Columbia, Kingston has USC’s baseball fortunes trending back toward Omaha.