By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
When the South Carolina baseball team showed up at Founders Park Wednesday night, they had a different look, with several players sporting new hair styles.
There were shaved heads, mohawks, mullets and all kinds of strange looks. All in an effort to change the mojo on a team that has been struggling of late, dropping five straight SEC series and 11 of their last 18 games.
"Just weird, superstitious baseball players trying to switch things up," junior Alex Destino said. "We are a weird group of guys, no doubt about it, so this is nothing that surprised me at all. Just something fun. We had a fun time with it and hopefully it turns a new page."
It worked for at least a night as South Carolina got three homes run en route to a 9-5 win over Wofford. The Gamecocks, fighting for their postseason lives, improved to 26-17 with a big SEC series at LSU looming this weekend.
Destino shaved his head and it may have helped him snap out of an ugly slump. After sitting out during the Kentucky series over the weekend, the junior outfielder returned to the lineup and blasted a two-run home run in the eighth for the final margin.
The hair-cutting movement was started by center fielder TJ Hopkins and Destino was the first to jump in.
"TJ shaved his head and walked in my room and I was just staring at him and I was like, 'why is he doing that?'" Destino said. "Then I was thinking, I should probably do something different because I have not been playing good. So we went to the field and shaved my head."
Jacob Olson let freshman Carlos Cortes give him a mohawk and responded with three hits from the leadoff spot, including a crucial double to lead off the game and jumpstart the Gamecock offense.
"Three guys shaved their heads and then I got this mohawk and everybody just started doing weird stuff," Olson said. "It's fun. … Just something to have a good time and stay loose."
Freshman Riley Hogan, who worked his way into the lineup over the weekend, allowed Cortes to give him a new do and had a double and his first career home run.
"It's been a long season and we are just trying to have some fun," he said. "Everybody just picked what would look good, or not so good."
Head coach Chad Holbrook, whose team lost two of three to Kentucky over the weekend, including a 19-1 pounding on Friday night, was glad to see his team come out swinging against Wofford (24-21).
"We did swing the bats well and got off to a good start there in the first inning," he said. "It was good to see three home runs from Riley and Ross (Grosvenor) and Alex. We played OK."
The Gamecocks started strong when Olson led off the game with a double and used aggressive base running to score on LT Tolbert's single to right. After Jonah Bride singled, Tolbert scored on Hogan's double off the wall in right center. Bride scored on an error and Hogan came home when Destino got caught in a rundown between first and second for the third out.
Wofford scored a run in the second on two walks and an error and another in the third on a walk and a double on a fly that Cortes misplayed in right, letting the ball sail over his head.
The Gamecocks got one of those runs back in the fourth when Grosvenor hit his second home run in as many games. Inserted into the lineup Saturday against Kentucky, the senior from Franklin, Tenn. has four hits and four RBIs in his first three starts.
South Carolina added another run in the fifth when Madison Stokes walked, Olson singled and Stokes scored on Cortes' sac fly.
Hogan, who also has been swinging a hot bat since breaking into the lineup against Kentucky, hit his first career homer in the sixth to make it 7-2.
Hogan and Grosvenor gave the Gamecocks a lift against Kentucky, along with John Jones, who was out with an injury Wednesday. Hogan and Grosvenor continued to swing hot bats against Wofford.
"They have hit, and that's awesome," Olson said. "Ross really came through, and Riley, too. They crushed it tonight and that helps us out a lot."
"They have injected some energy and some emotion into us," Holbrook said. "… Riley has a little chip on his shoulder and plays with a little of an air about him, and Ross is one of our emotional leaders."
Wofford chipped away at the lead in the seventh and eighth innings. The Terriers scored two runs on two hits, a hit batsman and a wild pitch in the seventh. Reed Massey then hit a solo homer in the eighth to cut the lead to 7-5.
Destino pushed the lead back to four, however, when he hit his sixth home run of the season in the bottom of the eighth. Mired in a horrible slump that led to him being benched against Kentucky, Destino crushed a ball deep over the right-field fence.
Asked how much Destino needed that hit, Holbrook said, "His coach needed it for my confidence in him. I love Alex, he's just putting entirely too much pressure on him lately and it was good to see."
Holbrook started freshman Cody Morris on the mound and followed with freshman Colby Lee. They controlled the Wofford offense through the first six innings. Morris allowed just two runs on only one hit while pitching around three walks. He matched his career-high with eight strikeouts in four innings. Lee gave up two runs on two hits in 2.2 innings before being relieved by Reed Scott, who finished the game.
Though it won a mid-week game against a mid-major opponent, the win was big to give the Gamecocks some confidence as they try to snap out their losing streak and string together enough wins to return to the NCAA Tournament. It has nine conference games remaining and four against non-conference foes.
"All 13 remaining are important and it's nice to win this one," Holbrook said. "We'll have a good workout tomorrow in Baton Rouge and get ready for a tough weekend."