It’s football season, but there was no one on campus more excited Friday than South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston.
Kingston had his first team meeting of the year Friday and welcomed 17 new players to his 2020 squad.
“I’m very excited moving forward and can’t wait for that first team meeting to look into their faces for the first time and talk about why we are going to be good this year,” Kingston said Thursday.
After leading the Gamecocks back to the NCAA Super Regionals in his first season in 2018, Kingston’s second team struggled to a 28-28 record (8-22 in the SEC) last year and missed the postseason. South Carolina lost five players to the MLB Draft and eight other players who either graduated or left the program.
Kingston calls his 2020 class “one of the best recruiting classes in the country.” Among the 17 new players are nine high school players, six junior-college transfers and two graduate transfers. Nine recruits from this year’s class were drafted, the most in the country, with six deciding to come to South Carolina.
“They all will have a pretty signifcant impact on our team this year and moving into the future,” Kingston said while speaking at the South Carolina Alumni Association’s Fall Sports Preview. “We are very optimistic about where this thing is going. That doesn’t guarantee anything but it is sure as heck a nice play to start.”
Among the 17 are seven pitchers, including three of the top four highest-rated junior-college pitchers in the country last year, and four catchers. The Gamecocks lost starting catcher Luke Berryhill to the draft while backup Chris Cullen graduated. Two of the top players in the new class are grad transfers Dallas Beaver from Central Florida and Bryant Bowen of Southern Miss, who can both catch. Beaver was a Cape Cod League All-Star this summer, while Bowen hit .341 last year at Southern Miss. Both can catch and play the corner infield positions. Sophomore catcher Wes Clarke also had a big summer, making the Valley League all-star team.
“We feel pretty good that that will be a very strong position for us,” Kingston said. “I think our pitchers will be incredibly better this year and our catching situation is very good.”
Kingston also welcomes back two key pitchers who missed last season with injury. Friday night starter Carmen Mlodzinski made just three starts before breaking his foot agaisnt Clemson and missing the rest of the season. He also shined this summer in the elite Cape Cod League.
Senior Graham Lawson also returns after missing last season with Tommy John surgery. Lawson is expected to be the team’s closer after closing some big games down the stretch in 2018. Kingston said Thursday he is already throwing 92-94 mph and will probably top out at 95-96 by the time the season starts.
With four starters and pitching ace Brett Kerry also returning, Kingston believes his 2020 team will be much better than the 2019 group.
“Very, very excited about where this thing is going,” he said. “We are moving where we need to be moving, that I can assure you.”