Hopkins a constant as Holbrook tinkers with Gamecock lineup

Hopkins a constant as Holbrook tinkers with Gamecock lineup

**Story by Jeff Owens/Photos by Allen Sharpe**

On Thursday, Chad Holbrook had seven different lineups he was tinkering with, seven different batting orders he was contemplating for Opening Day. 

By Friday morning, with the first pitch of the 2016 season just hours away, he had cut his options down to two before finally settling on a starting lineup.  

"I didn't pick the wrong one, so that was good," Holbrook said, smiling after his team's 7-1 Opening Day victory over UNC Greensboro. "A couple of guys who were in one lineup and not in the other, the guys I picked, they played good today."

Gamecocks start strong against UNCG

Holbrook will continue experimenting with his lineup throughout the weekend series with UNCG. Sophomores Danny Blair and Jacob Olson, a junior college transfer, got surprise starts on Friday and made the most of them. Blair was 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. Olson was 2-for-3 and scored a run. 

They likely will yield to two teammates on Saturday, probably freshman Carlos Cortes and possibly sophomore Brandon McIlwain. DH and catcher John Jones also is likely to find a spot in the lineup on Saturday and Sunday. 

"We've got some good players that sat on the bench today and deserve to play," Holbrook said.  "I'm going to play some guys early in the season to see if we can get in a rhythm and see who can do what. They are all going to have to be ready to play."

One player who will continue to be in the lineup is outfielder and leadoff hitter TJ Hopkins, the star of Opening Day. The sophomore from Summerville, S.C. has drawn rave receives from Holbrook all season and went 3-for-4 with two RBI Friday. He lined the first pitch of the season down the right field line for a double, and scored on Alex Destino's single.  

"I was seeing it well today," Hopkins said. "The first pitcher was throwing a lot of off-speed pitches, so I was just looking to go the other way and had some balls fall for me. I went up there and was just looking for a pitch to hit early."

Opening Day a special experience

Holbrook has been thrilled with the development of Hopkins, who hit .322 in 43 games as a freshman. 

"TJ is a special talent. A great athlete and a great kid who works extremely hard at his game," Holbrook said. "He was terrific. He set the tone for the whole game with his first swing."

Holbrook calls Hopkins, his starting center fielder, "an electric player." 

"There are not many players more talented than TJ Hopkins as far how he can run, his swing, what he can do when he is on the bases," he said. "And he's got some power. He's a much more polished player this year than he was last year."

Hopkins has a simple approach at the plate.

"I go up there and have the same approach I always do — see ball, hit ball," he said. 

Photos from Opening Day

Hopkins is one of six or seven players who likely will play everyday for the Gamecocks, along with third baseman Jonah Bride, outfielder/DH Alex Destino, catcher/DH Chris Cullen, shortstop Madison Stokes and first baseman Matt Williams. 

"There is going to be a core, the backbone of my team, six or seven guys who are going to be in there every day, but I'm tinkering with a few positions and I want to give a few guys some at-bats," Holbrook said. 

Hopkins is one who will be in the lineup everyday. 

"As long as he's healthy, he is leading off and playing everyday," Holbrook said. "That has been the plan from day one."