By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
The bad news and heartbreaking losses just keep piling up for South Carolina baseball.
In a season filled with key injuries and one frustrating setback after another, head coach Chad Holbrook and his team got some of the worst news imaginable Tuesday when it learned that ace right-hander Clarke Schmidt would miss the rest of the season with a serious elbow injury.
The Gamecocks have dealt with injuries all season — closer Tyler Johnson, center fielder TJ Hopkins, catcher Chris Cullen (who has played through a knee injury) — but none of them come close to the magnitude of losing Schmidt, one of the best pitchers in the country.
An All-SEC pitcher last year, Schmidt entered the season as a preseason All-American, and had lived up to the billing with a 4-2 record and a 1.34 ERA in nine starts. He had allowed just nine earned runs, 41 hits and struck out 70 batters in 60.1 innings, with opponents hitting just .194 against him. Schmidt was near the top of the SEC in most pitching categories and was recently named to USA Baseball's Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List.
More importantly, Schmidt was the heart and soul of the Gamecock team. From his bulldog approach on the mound to his unwavering support of his teammates, Schmidt is one of South Carolina's leaders in the dugout. Though he shows incredible drive and passion for the game, he is a calming influence on his team, always remaining positive and upbeat and supporting his teammates, which has been crucial during a recent losing streak.
If any player on the South Carolina team has a right to be frustrated, it is Schmidt, who has pitched his heart out and shined on a team that is 5-8 in one-run games has blown several late leads. Instead of 4-2, Schmidt could easily be 9-0, but he has never shown any hint of disappointment or frustration and has gone out of his way to remain positive and confident in his teammates.
That's the kind of leadership that is hard to replace, especially on a team that has fallen to 24-15 and 9-9 in the SEC and is reeling from bad breaks and a series of difficult losses.
The injury is also a devastating personal setback for Schmidt, who was expected to be selected in the first round of the June MLB Draft. But Schmidt is person of strong faith and high character. He remained strong last year as his family dealt with his brother Clate's battle with cancer while pitching for Clemson last year. Clate overcame his illness and is now pitching in the Detroit Tigers organization. Clarke likely will still be drafted. Hopefully, he has the same success with his injury and bounces back to have a strong professional career.
In a season that seems to be spiraling out of control for South Carolina, the Gamecocks will now need other players to step up. Freshmen Cody Morris and Colby Lee likely will fill the third spot in the rotation, with Wil Crowe and Adam Hill moving up. Crowe and Hill have also been outstanding this season. They will need to be even better in Schmidt's absence, and Morris, Lee and a host of other pitchers will need to be better if the Gamecocks have any hope of salvaging their season and playing in the postseason.
More importantly, they need to continue to follow the lead and example of Schmidt, fighting through adversity, remaining upbeat and positive and finding a way to bounce back from this latest setback.