By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
New South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston has his eye on two facets of his team as the Gamecocks prepare for fall practice: Rebuilding his pitching staff, and seeing how much potential the returning offense has.
The Gamecocks lost the bulk of its pitching staff from last year, with starters Clarke Schmidt and Wil Crowe getting drafted, as well as relievers Tyler Johnson, Josh Reagan and John Parke. Seniors Colie Bowers and Reed Scott graduated.
"Our pitching staff needs to be totally rebuilt," Kingston said in a recent interview. "Our returning players need to take that next step in their development and get better, and the new guys need to be prepared to come in and contribute right away."
Offensively, the Gamecocks return the whole starting lineup except for DH Alex Destino, who was also drafted. The challenge for Kingston, who took over the program on June 30, is evaluating those returning players to see how they fit in his program.
"For me now, the challenge is to make sure that those guys take the next step and improve and become next-level type players," he said. "I'm confident we can help our offense and our defense because there are so many players coming back. … I think the numbers we put up last year were solid offensively, but I think there is another level we can get to."
Two players Kingston is particularly excited to see are Carlos Cortes, a freshman All-American last year, and Jacob Olson, who had a strong first season for the Gamecocks. Both played in the Cape Cod League this summer and were impressive.
"Being a Florida kid, we saw (Cortes) a bunch at the high school level and the travel ball circuit, so I'm very excited to work with him and help him continue to take his game to the next level," Kingston said. "… He's doing very well (in the Cape Cod League) and (Jacob) Olson made the all-star team up in the Cape Cod league, so I think he will be a key component for us this year."
Several Gamecocks played summer ball during the offseason. Here's a report on how they did, courtesy of the South Carolina Athletic Department.
• Carlos Cortes had five doubles, a triple and four home runs while hitting .268 for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod League. Cortes was named to the Cape Cod All-Star team and helped the Red Sox to the CCBL playoffs. His walk-off, three-run homer gave Y-D an early 1-0 lead in its playoff series with Brewster.
• Jacob Olson also was named a Cape Cod All-Star after hitting .308 with 11 doubles, two home runs and 14 RBI for the Chatham Anglers. Olson had 10 multi-hit games for Chatham as well as a .495 slugging percentage. Olson's summer was cut short with an injury in mid-July.
• Adam Hill was South Carolina's third Cape Cod League participant, also playing for the Chatham Anglers. Hill made three appearances on the mound, striking out seven in 13 innings of work.
• Colby Lee and Graham Lawson both played for the Wilmington Sharks of the Coastal Plain League. They helped the Sharks get to the Petitt Cup League final before falling to Gastonia in two games. Lee made 14 appearances for Wilmington, striking out 45 batters in 51.2 innings. Lawson was 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in four appearances. He struck out nine in 5.1 innings.
• Riley Hogan and TJ Shook played close to home with the Lexington County Blowfish of the Coastal Plain League. Hogan belted six home runs and drove in 23 while playing in 30 games for the Blowfish. Shook was 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 33.1 innings pitched.
• Rian Haire and Christian Flint both played for the Florence Redwolves of the Coastal Plain League. Haire struck out 31 batters in 30.2 innings, making eight starts for the Redwolves. Flint played in nine games for Florence and had a double and two RBI on the year.
• Wrapping up the Coastal Plain League, Chase DeMars played his summer baseball for the Morehead City Marlins. Demars played in six games for the Marlins and had a double, two RBI and a stolen base.
• Redshirt freshman Jake Wright played for the Piedmont Pride of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League. Wright hit .311 with 32 runs scored, two doubles, six home runs and 19 RBI for the Pride, who finished the league with a 29-10 record.