By Jeff Owens | Photo by Allen Sharpe
It has been a miserable season for South Carolina baseball, which slumped to 24-24 after a loss to Furman Wednesday night and sits dead last in the SEC.
At 5-19 in conference play, the Gamecocks have their worst SEC record in program history and are on pace for their worst overall record since 1996.
It’s been frustrating for the fan base, the coaching staff and everyone associated with one of the proudest baseball programs in the country. But no one feels the pain more than the players.
“Any time we lose, we hate it, we absolutely hate it,” senior third baseman Jacob Olson said. “You really can’t put a finger on how that feels, and it’s just been that feeling over and over again. But all you can do is keep playing and keep going. We can’t change all the losses we have had, so we have two weekends left to try to make this SEC Tournament and that’s what we are going for.”
The Gamecocks still have something to play for. With a three-game series against Kentucky on tap at Founders Park this weekend, they are fighting to get into the 12-team SEC Tournament. Two of the league’s 14 teams will miss the conference tournament and South Carolina enters the weekend one game behind Kentucky and Alabama, both 6-18 in conference play.
South Carolina needs to win their first SEC series of this season against Kentucky and then likely take at least one game next weekend at No. 5 Mississippi State.
Head coach Mark Kingston says his team is not focused on the scenarios for making the tournament, just playing one game at a time.
“Truthfully, we are trying to win the next game we play,” he said. “There are just too many factors out of your control. How will Kentucky do after this week? How’s Alabama doing? At this point we are just trying to do our best and win the next game we play.”
South Carolina, which will honor its three seniors on Saturday, will start Cam Tringali (2-3, 4.00) on the mound for Friday night’s 7 p.m. game and Reid Morgan (3-5, 3.86) at noon on Saturday. The starter for Sunday’s noon game is TBA.
The Gamecocks’ pitching staff has been decimated by injuries this season, and the news just keeps getting worse. Carmen Mlodzinski, who started the season as the Friday night starter, was expected to return this weekend but Kingston said Thursday he will take a medical redshirt and miss the rest of the season.
Reliever Ridge Chapman, who has made just one appearance and thrown just 1.2 innings this season, will also miss the rest of the year and take a medical redshirt. Relievers John Gilreath and Hayden Lehman also will not return this season.
With such a thin pitching staff, Kingston said outfielders Brady Allen and Josiah Sightler will be on standby to pitch this weekend if needed.
In addition, shortstop George Callil likely won’t play this weekend after suffering a concussion last week against Vanderbilt.
Kingston says the rash of injuries has been difficult, but says his team has tried to handle it properly.
“Life doesn’t always promise you wine and roses,” he said. “Is this frustrating for everybody? Yes it is. But at the end of the day, all you can do is handle it with class and in a way that will allow you to have future success and that is what we will continue to do.”
Kingston acknowledges that his players are frustrated, but says they have not given up.
“They’re frustrated, like everybody else,” he said. “They’re frustrated but it hasn’t stopped their attitude to go out and give it everything they’ve got. They are playing baseball properly, we are just not playing well enough. The approach is frustration but they are handling it the way they need to handle it and they are going out and playing as hard as they can.”
Kingston says it’s important for his team to make the SEC Tournament, even if it has only a slim chance to return to the NCAA Tournament.
“We just want to play good baseball and I want to see these guys rewarded,” he said. “They have put in a lot of hard work and very few things have gone our way this year so I would like to see them get rewarded for the hard work and perseverance they have shown.”
Olson, one of the senior leaders, says the message to the team going into this weekend is that the season is not over yet and there’s still something to play for.
“You just have to make them understand that there is still a SEC Tournament shot and if we get in the SEC Tournament, there is still a shot to win it, and then there is still a shot to get to a Regional,” he said.
“Whether I am a senior or a freshman, that’s what you want and what we should get and we need to go out there and do it.”