Wes Clarke is used to hitting home runs, but even he has to marvel a bit at his current streak.
Clarke blasted his eighth home run in 14 games Saturday to lead South Carolina to a 10-3 win over Cornell. His two-run shot in the first inning hit the back of the visitor's bullpen at Founders Park and staked the Gamecocks to a 3-0 lead. Clarke also homered in Game 2 Friday and has home runs in each of his last three games and four of his last five.
“That ball was crushed again today," head coach Mark Kingston said. "He’s seeing the ball well and hitting it hard. He’s a strong kid with a very simple swing and what you are seeing is a guy who is developing really nicely right before our eyes."
Clarke hit 14 home runs his senior of high school as the Virginia Player of the Year and had a big summer in the Valley League in Virginia last summer. He's not surprised by his strong start to his sophomore season.
“I had some pretty big goals to start this year and I feel like I am chasing those pretty well," he said Saturday. "I’m not surprised, I feel like I put in the work and I’m reaping what I sow. Things are going well and I’m feeling great and hopefully I can continue the streak."
Kingston is thrilled, if somewhat surprised, by the progress of his first baseman/DH.
“We knew he was much improved, we knew he was getting better and stronger and learning how to get his swing off," he said. "But eight home runs in 14 games, that’s probably a little more than you can ask out of anybody. Just got to keep him going.”
Starter Thomas Farr was dominant in his third career start Saturday, allowing just one hit over six innings to lower his ERA to 1.72. He walked two and struck out six on 88 pitches.
The Gamecocks improved to 10-4 and took the series after dropping the past two weekend affairs to Northwestern and Clemson. They begin SEC play next weekend at home against Tennessee.
Jeff Heinrich and Brady Allen led South Carolina with two hits each.
After banging out nine hits in a 10-2 win Friday, the Gamecocks jumped on the Big Red early again Saturday. Noah Myers led off the game with a triple into the left-field gap and scored on an RBI single by Heinrich. Clarke followed with a prodigious blast to left-center.
South Carolina added four runs in the third on just one hit. Cornell starter Spencer Edwards walked the bases loaded and his replacement, Luke Yacinich, hit Clarke to force in a run. Brady Allen knocked in a run with an RBI single and two more scored on a wild pitch and a groundout.
The Gamecocks tacked on a run in the sixth on an error, a walk and an RBI single by Heinrich. They added another in the seventh on a walk, an infield single by pinch-hitter Anthony Amicangelo and an error.
John Gilreath took over for Farr in the seventh and pitched a 1-2-3 inning to extend the bullpen's streak of hitless and scoreless innings to 13.2. But Andrew Peters ran into trouble in the eight.
Still battling his way back from Tommy John surgery, Peters gave up three runs on two hits and two walks. Left-hander Josiah Sightler relieved him to get out of the inning with a weak groundball and a strikeout. Sightler finished the game and struck out the side in the ninth.
Freshman Brennan Milone returned to the lineup after missing the past 11 games with a hip flexor. He started at third base and went 1-for-4 with a walk. He collected his first career hit with a double into the left-field corner in the eighth inning.
Farr was sharp in his third start, mixing his 94-mph fastball with a changeup and fastball to keep hitters off balance.
“Good command for the most part and I was really happy with his changeup," Kingston said. "He was able to not only throw up to 94 but throw the changeup. When you can do that effectively, it makes it really hard on hitters."