By Jeff Owens/Photo by Jenny Dilworth
A year ago, a lot was made out of South Carolina’s vaunted pitching machine, which head coach Mark Kingston ramped up when his hitters were struggling against SEC pitching.
The machine became a valuable tool in Carolina’s turn-around from a slow start to make the NCAA Tournament. At one point, the machine even had its own Twitter account.
After a rough weekend against Georgia, Kingston is going back to the tried-and-true routine this week, ramping up the pitching machine to prepare his hitters for this weekend’s road trip to Tennessee.
Gamecock hitters struggled all weekend in getting swept by Georgia. With several Bulldog pitchers throwing in the mid- to high-90s, South Carolina scored just 10 runs on 17 hits in the three-game series and struck out 41 times.
Kingston expects his team to face a similar challenge against 17-4 Tennessee. Despite getting swept by Auburn, the Vols have a team ERA of 2.30.
He is preparing his hitters to face more power arms and using the pitching machine to challenge them.
“We’re challenging them with the machines, like we do,” he said Wednesday. “We went through this last year where the guys had to start to ramp it up. We will do the same thing this year, we will get them challenged on those machines. If you are going to hit 95 in a game, you are going to have to prepare for that in practice. So that will be a big part of what we are doing right now.”
The Gamecocks will counter with the same pitching plan as last weekend. Freshman Wesley Sweatt will start on Friday night with Reid Morgan scheduled to get the ball Saturday. The Sunday spot is listed as TBA but likely will be the pairing of TJ Shook and Brett Kerry, who were outstanding against Georgia, if one or both are available.
Despite an 0-3 start in SEC play, Kingston is preaching patience with his team, especially in a conference that he says might be as good as ever. The SEC has nine or 10 teams ranked in various national polls, including four in the top 10. Both South Carolina and Tennessee are ranked in different polls.
“We’er not going to panic. We hate to lose, we hate to lose one game, much less three like we did in heartbreaking fashion,” he said. “But we won’t panic. We have got 30 games in the SEC and sometimes you lose ‘em early and win late, sometimes yo win early and lose late. At the end of the day, you have to treat it as a marathon and we have three games down and 27 to go. We are going to try to win as many of them as we can.”
INJURY UPDATE: Noah Campbell, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury, is 100 percent as far as hitting but cannot play in the field yet. Campbell will likely DH this weekend, as he did Tuesday against Furman, with Quinntin Perez playing second. … Closer Sawyer Bridges, who has gotten off to a rough start, is healthy but Kingston says some days his shoulder and arm feels better than others. Bridges has dealt with a shoulder injury the past two years that forced him to alter his arm angle and approach. “He’s healthy but there is just sometimes there is life in the arm, sometimes there is not. We have to continue to figure out which days and how to use him.” … Pitchers Carmen Mlodzinski and Ridge Chapman are also still out with injuries. Mlodzinski, the Friday night starter who suffered a broken foot in his third start of the season, is healing quickly and could be back in about five weeks, Kingston said. Chapman, who has a sore forearm, could be back in four weeks.