Throughout the preseason, it was South Carolina's vaunted pitching staff that got all the attention for the No. 4 Gamecocks. And with good reason.
But on Opening Day at Founders Park Friday, the Gamecock offense was equally impressive, banging out seven runs on 11 hits for a 7-1 victory over a talented UNC Greensboro team. Leadoff hitter TJ Hopkins and Alex Destino led the way, combining for five hits and four RBI.
"Our pitching staff … that's all you really see because we have three first-round guys," Hopkins said. "I feel like we can swing the bats really well."
"Obviously our pitching staff has been getting a lot of credit, which they deserve … but I think our offense kinda surprised us a little bit," Destino said. "We know we can hit it, but we faced good arms today and we were clicking on all cylinders."
Gamecock ace Clarke Schmidt was in typical form in his first start of the season. A third-team All-American in 2016, Schmidt was as good as advertised against the top hitting team in the country last season, giving up just three hits in 6.2 innings. He walked two and struck out three. His only blemish was a solo home run to Dillon Stewart.
"I've seen him throw better, but he was good," head coach Chad Holbrook said. "He had electric stuff. His command wasn't quite as sharp as it can be, but he was really good."
After giving up the solo homer in the fourth, Schmidt gave up just a bunt single the rest of the way. When he walked off the mound after 81 pitches, he raised his hands to the heavens, thankful for a successful first outing.
"Clarke is special. We know he is special," Holbrook said. "He's not going to be perfect each and every time out, but I like the start he got us off to."
UNCG, which hit .345 as a team last season, managed just four hits and few hard-hit balls off South Carolina pitching. Senior right-hander Colie Bowers finished off the Spartans by striking out four of the seven batters he faced.
"I felt like I did a good enough job going deep in the game, and that's something I like to do," Schmidt said. "To go six and two-thirds and give the rest to Cole, he did a great job coming in and backing me up."
The Gamecocks got offense from players throughout its lineup, including surprise starters Danny Blair and Jacob Olson. Hopkins went 3-for-4, as did Danny Blair, the No. 9 hitter. Destino and Olson, a junior college transfer, each had two hits.
The Gamecocks jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead when Hopkins led off the game with a double and Destino drove him home with a sharp single to right. Destino scored on a wild pitch with Chris Cullen at the plate.
UNCG got on the board in the fourth with Stewart's home run but South Carolina blew it open in the bottom of the inning.
After Blair plated a run with a single, Hopkins knocked in two with his third straight hit and his second double. Destino knocked in another run with his second RBI single for a 6-1 lead.
The Gamecocks added a run in the fifth when Matt Williams singled and scored on a wild pitch.
"I like the way our team responded when they hit the home run," Holbrook said. "That was a big moment for our team and a big moment in the game."
South Carolina plays UNCG agains tomorrow at 2 p.m. and closes the three-game series with a 1:30 p.m. start Sunday.
Playing before a sell-out crown on Opening Day, it was a good start for a team expected to challenge for the SEC title again and a chance to play for another national championship.
"We played a nice, clean game," Holbrook said. "Clarke was terrific, Colie was outstanding behind him and (the defense) made some great plays behind them. Pitching and defense and we got some timely hits. …
"We got off to a good start. A good nine innings. But we've got to come with the same energy tomorrow."