South Carolina faced a tough test on Opening Day Friday.
But with it’s two most experienced pitchers on the mound, the No. 19 Gamecocks were up to the task, sweeping a doubleheader against Ohio State and North Dakota State, a pair of 2019 NCAA Tournament teams, on day one of the Carolina Classic.
Junior Kelsey Oh won the first game, beating Ohio State 3-2 by allowing no earned runs over seven innings. Senior Cayla Drotar was just as good in Game 2, allowing just two earned runs on seven hits and striking out four in seven innings of a 4-2 win over North Dakota State.
“I thought both pitchers did really well for it being opening day and both of them to go a complete seven,” head coach Beverly Smith said. “I thought they had some efficient innings.”
Oh, who missed part of last season with an ankle injury, set the tone with an outstanding performance in Game 1. She scattered eight hits, struck out eight and the only runs she allowed came off two fifth-inning errors, one on a highly questionable call that plated both runs.
“Kelsey looked outstanding,” Smith said. “Her speed is really good and she was throwing the ball hard. Ohio State is a very athletic team and I thought she held them at bay all game.”
“I love Kelsey Oh, just her competitiveness and determination to get out there and kick butt,” Drotar said. “It’s awesome to be a part of and awesome to be on a staff with her and watch her grow. Today is just a glimpse of what is going to happen in the future.”
The Gamecocks took an early lead in Game 2 on a two-run home run by right-fielder Katie Prebble. Madison Owens started the inning with a leadoff single and Prebble followed with a blast over the left-field wall. They added another run when Lauren Stewart and Kenzi Maguire singled and Stewart scored on an error.
A transfer from Gardner-Webb, Prebble had four home runs last year and started strong Friday after making big strides in the fall and spring practice. She had two hits in the two games.
“I wasn’t surprised. She has been hitting bombs like that all fall and all spring in practices,” Oh said of Prebble. “We were all just happy for her. She’s been working so hard so it’s really exciting. I knew she had my back.”
“Katie is so strong and powerful sometimes I’m scared for the opposing pitcher,” Smith said. “She just hits every ball hard and you saw it tonight. She hit that laser in game one but had a couple of hard hits in game two. She’s powerful.”
Ohio State’s only runs came on a controversial play in the fifth inning. Andi Farrah reached on a one-out error and with two out Meg Otte hit a long fly ball to left field. The ball drifted foul but hit the glove of Owens, South Carolina’s left fielder. Though the ball and Owens were clearly in foul territory, the ball was ruled fair, allowing both runners to score.
Oh gave up two more hits in the inning before getting the final out. She allowed two more base runners in the sixth before rallying with two strikeouts and then retiring the Buckeyes in order in the seventh.
The Gamecocks jumped on North Dakota State early in Game 2. Maguire started the game with a leadoff walk and then Mackenzie Boesel and Jana Johns followed with singles to load the bases. Maguire scored on a sac fly by Drotar and then Stewart knocked in two runs with a double.
Drotar then helped herself with a solo home run in the sixth inning. North Dakota State rallied for runs in the sixth and seventh but Drotar ended both rallies with strikeouts.
“KK pitched so well and then came in the four-hole and hit a home run for herself,” Smith said. “She offers that kind of power on the offensive side and then can shut a team down too. That’s unique to see. You don’t see many pitchers hitting in the four-hole at this level.”
“To get out there with my team and do that for them, it felt amazing,” the senior from Hartsville, S.C. said.
South Carolina, 38-19 last year, got off to another strong start before facing Southern Illinois on Saturday (3 p.m.) and UNC Greensboro on Sunday (3 p.m.)
“I think it was a test for us,” Smith said. “There are no cupcakes in this tournament. To come out for the first game and have two NCAA teams there and perform like we did, I feel really good about it.”