USC baseball rediscovered its early-season mojo in Columbia Regional, and just in time

Jeff Blake/Jeff Blake Photo

South Carolina coach Mark Kingston mentioned Friday night that when he realized he would have a full complement of players available for the NCAA Tournament, he went back and analyzed his team’s early-season lineups, when the Gamecocks were rolling as one of the best teams in the country.

Kingston turned back to that formula this weekend and it proved to be successful. South Carolina swept through the Columbia regional — outscoring the opposition, 41-11 — and advanced to next weekend’s Super Regional, a feat it hasn’t accomplished since 2018.

“Guys one through nine took really good at-bats,” Kingston said. “That’s the lineup that looks very similar to a lot of times we scored double digit runs. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. It’s not simple, it’s not easy or everybody would do it.”

In the final 11 games of the regular season and three SEC Tournament games, South Carolina scored 50 runs, limping to the finish line with a 3-11 record during that span.

Will McGillis returned from a forearm injury that sidelined him for all but one game since March 24. He batted leadoff and earned all-tournament honors with two home runs and five RBIs. But if that was the catalyst, the rest of the Gamecocks carried over that mojo.

“You can’t underestimate how important Will McGillis is being back there at the top, setting the tone, with mature at-bats,” Kingston said.

South Carolina fans were rocking on Friday night when they sent 17 batters to the plate and scored 11 runs in the fourth inning en route to a 19-1 drubbing of Central Connecticut State.

As impressive as that was, the seven-run third inning in the 16-7 regional-clinching victory over Campbell might have been even better. In a span of 12 pitches, the Gamecocks scored seven runs to take command of the championship game.

The third inning started innocently enough with a strikeout in a tie game. Ethan Petry singled and Cole Messina doubled to set the table for the onslaught.

Talmadge LeCroy, who went 3-for-5 with five RBIs, hit the first pitch he saw for a two-run double that gave South Carolina a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Gavin Casas, the tournament MVP, hit the second pitch he saw for a run-scoring double.

Michael Braswell singled on a 1-1 count to put runners at the corners. After taking a ball, Will Tippett put down a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt to score Casas from third. Dylan Brewer then singled to right on the second pitch he saw to score Braswell.

Two pitches later, Will McGillis hit his second HR of the weekend, it was 9-2 and Founders Park was rocking as loud as it’s been all season.

“Hitting is definitely contagious,” LeCroy said. “It makes the ball a little bit bigger when you see somebody else go up there and hammer it. It’s what we did at the beginning of the season, and we got away from it a little bit. But things are going good right now.”

Throw in the fact the pitching seems to have rebounded, as well, and South Carolina looks more like the team that started the season 34-6 and rose to No. 2 in the national polls, instead of the one that had many thinking South Carolina wouldn’t be hosting this weekend.

Nick Proctor and Will Sanders combined to pitch the final six innings, with Proctor allowing two runs in his three frames. Sanders, coming off of injury that caused him to miss the final weeks of the season, pitched the final three innings and only allowed one hit with six strikeouts.