Gamecocks find unsung hero on big offensive day against Wright State

Gamecocks find unsung hero on big offensive day against Wright State

**Story By Jeff Owens/Photos by Jenny Dilworth and Allen Sharpe**

Photo gallery by Jenny Dilworth

Photo gallery by Allen Sharpe

Hunter Taylor was trotting down the first-base line when he saw his long foul ball drifting back toward left field. By the time it hit the ground he was standing on second-base with a leadoff double in the sixth inning. 

Taylor's wind-blown hit ignited a six-run inning that allowed the Gamecocks to break open the game and cruise to a 10-5 win over Wright State at Founders Park. 

It was that kind of day for Taylor, a backup catcher getting a chance to play for the first time this season. The double to left was his second extra-base hit on a three-hit today. 

"A little bit of help from Mother Nature," Taylor said of his career-best day. "That hasn't happened to me before. I normally don't have too good a luck."

He got plenty on a windy day. His first double was a long fly ball that sliced into the right-field corner. His second looked way foul until it drifted back into play over the left-fielder's head. 

"That ball was probably 30 feet foul and I looked at it and I thought, 'Well, I think I need to run.' I got halfway to second and it hit the ground. It was weird," Taylor said. 

Schmidt dominant in Game 1 against Wright State

The Gamecocks had 11 hits and scored a season-high 10 runs to back the sensational pitching of Wil Crowe, who won his second straight start. Taylor had three hits while Jacob Olson added a three-run double and Matt Williams a two-run single. 

Crowe, returning from Tommy John surgery, was outstanding, giving up just one run on four hits with nine strikeouts. The only run he allowed came when he gave up a leadoff double in the seventh and reliever Brandon Murray gave up a three-run home run. 

For  the second straight day, the Gamecocks jumped out to an early lead with three runs in the first. Alex Destino and Madison Stokes both singled and Williams was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Olson then delivered the big blow, ripping a double to left to clear the basis. 

"Big first inning, two outs with nobody on and we found a way to score three runs," head coach Chad Holbrook said. "Jake Olson with the big hit there to get us some momentum in our dugout."

The Gamecocks added a run in the fourth when Olson singled and Taylor hit the first of his two doubles. Olson scored from third when Jonah Bride grounded out. 

South Carolina blew it open in the sixth, starting with Taylor's wind-blown double and capped by Williams' two-run single. Another big moment came when Danny Blair laid down a perfect bunt on a squeeze play and Taylor slid around the tag to score the fifth run. 

The whole team was thrilled for Taylor, who almost transferred during the offseason before deciding to return. He's one of three catchers on the team, and the third to get playing time this year behind start Chris Cullen and John Jones. 

"He's been itching to get in there and he has been having some good BP sessions," Williams said. "It's always good to see him get in there, somebody that doesn't get a lot of cracks at it, and have some success. I have been there and done that, so I know how he feels. I'm proud of him."

"He has been working his tail off and he never complains about anything," Crowe said. "He's the definition of a team guy and when he's called upon he is going to give it his all, 100 percent. He's a great guy and everything that happens to him, he deserves it." 

No one was happier for him than Holbrook, who penciled Taylor into the lineup against a left-handed starter. 

"I am so proud of him because he works as hard as anybody and our pitchers love throwing him the ball," Holbrook said. "He gives great energy back there and he is always talking with our pitchers. He's kind of an emotional leader for our team."

Taylor's performance and the offensive outburst was a nice compliment to Crowe's dominant start. 

"Wil was great. He had all his pitches. I think his outing was much more polished and impressive than last week, and last week was pretty darn good," Holbrook said. "We've got two really good starts this weekend from Clarke (Schmidt) and Wil, and hopefully Adam (Hill) will give us one tomorrow."

The Gamecocks, 5-2, will go for the weekend sweep against Wright State Sunday at 1:30 p.m.