When Mark Kingston approached freshman Braylen Wimmer and told him he was going to start on Opening Day, Wimmer didn’t flinch.
“He showed a very low pulse … he had very little reaction,” Kingston said. “He just said, ‘Alright, good.’ That was about it.”
But internally, the freshman infielder from Yukon, Okla. was thrilled. He had dreamed of playing for the Gamecocks since watching them win back-to-back national championships as a kid.
“It was a great feeling,” he said. “I remember back in 2010 and 2011 watching this team play in the College World Series and it’s always been a dream of mine to put this uniform on and go out there and do that. It’s a dream come true.”
Wimmer, whose dad Chris was a two-time All-American at Wichita State, was locked in a tight battle throughout training camp with junior Noah Campbell and junior-college transfer Jeff Heinrich for the starting job at second base. After getting the Opening Day nod, he made the most of it, going 1-for-3 at the plate with two RBI and making several outstanding plays in the field. He made a diving stop in the fifth inning and teamed with shortstop George Calli on two slick double plays to end an inning.
“That’s what we have seen out of him,” Kingston said. “He’s an athletic, good baseball player. His defense is what kind of won us over and pushed the ege on him getting the start and he showed you everything we have been seeing all spring.”
Wimmer was hit by a pitch and scored in South Carolina’s six-run first inning. He came to the plate in the sixth with the bases loaded and calmly stroked a single to right to drive in two runs.
“Just sticking to the game plan,” Wimmer said. “I was going up there looking for a fastball and got a breaking ball to start off. I got that fastball the second pitch and just stayed short and quick and drove it the other way.”
Wimmer was one of two freshmen to earn starts on Opening Day. Highly regarded freshman Brennan Milone started at third and batted third in his first career game. He drew three walks and scored a run.
Though he didn’t get a hit, Kingston was impressed with Milone’s approach and plate discipline. In the first inning, he just missed a home run to left before drawing a walk to set up Bryant Bowen’s three-run homer.
“Rarely do you feel confident enough to put a freshman in the three-hole, but he takes quality at-bats,” Kingston said. “I thought his first at-bat was key to that rally. He fouled a ball off at 3-2, a breaking ball, which most freshman would swing and miss at a 3-2 breaking ball in their first at-bat in college, but he fouled it off, worked a walk and that got us to the three-run homer.”
For Wimmer and Milone, starting at Founders Park on Opening Day was a dream come true.
“This is the team I wanted to play for growing up,” Wimmer said. “To finally get to do that … there was some nervousness there but after making a few plays and settling down, it was a great feeling.”