Elite pitching, home runs power Gamecocks to series win

On3 imageby:Collyn Taylor04/21/23

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Eli Jones watched as BT Riopelle whiff over a pitch. As the umpire called strike three, Jones let out a guttural yell toward Cole Messina. The South Carolina dugout–and sellout crowd–erupted.

For Jones, it was a moment long coming for the sophomore reliever, but for the Gamecocks it was even bigger. Riopelle represented the tying run and, with his strikeout, the inning and threat was over. 

“That’s what you live for. I grew up my whole life dreaming of being in that moment,” Jones said. “To get the opportunity to actually do it and perform and execute a pitch, it’s what you look forward to your whole life. It’s a great feeling.” 

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It was the latest in what was a long line of james South Carolina got out of Friday night while carrying its elite pitching to a 5-2 series-clinching win over Florida. 

South Carolina notches a resume-boosting series win over a top-10 RPI team without three starters healthy and the Gamecocks’ Saturday starter–Noah Hall–having missed three consecutive outings. 

“We won anyway,” Mark Kingston said.

Coming into the year, South Carolina’s pitching staff was oft-talked about, a ballyhooed group of versatile strike-throwers who could keep even the best lineups down. 

The Gamecocks (33-6, 12-4 SEC) showed why against one of the best power-hitting groups in the country.  

Buoyed by early offense, South Carolina’s pitching staff got to work and also looked like the staff it was billed to be. After allowing a solo homer in the first inning, Jack Mahoney motored through the final four innings of his outing allowing just one run. 

He’d breeze through the next two innings before hitting trouble in the fourth. With two runners in scoring position and just one out, Mahoney induced a shallow pop up on the infield and a groundout to get out of the inning, flexing and screaming en route to the dugout. 

Mahoney didn’t get as lucky in the fifth, giving up a run on a wild pitch, but would fandangle his way out of the inning with that the only damage. With runners on the corners and one out, South Carolina stuck with him and he made something happen. 

The final image of his outing was Mahoney, holding up the No. 1 to the sky as Braylen Wimmer found Michael Braswell who hummed a ball to Cole Messina for an inning ending double play. 

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“What you get with those guys with poise and guys who are competitors. They know in the middle of a crisis like that when the bases get loaded or have runners in scoring position,” Kingston said. “The key is to slow down, breathe a little bit better and execute pitches. They’ve pitched enough now, they’re old enough now and competitive enough that they know how to do that. They know how to get out of those spots.” 

Florida stranded eight runners Friday, going a measly 3-for-20 with runners on base. The Gators were hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position. 

South Carolina offensively did just enough early before Hurston Waldrep settled in, hitting two home runs. The first was a two-run shot from Cole Messina in the first while Ethan Petry followed it with a three-run bomb an inning later. 

Waldrep clicked after that to the tune of 10 strikeouts to just three walks. He didn’t allowing a baserunner from the third until the start of the sixth inning. 

“The stuff’s electric. We did a good job early on with the fastball. Our damage, early on, was with the fastball and he really started to feature the offspeed stuff,” Kingston said. “It’s a dirty pitch. It’s a first-round pitch. We struggled with it a little bit. But everyone will struggle with that pitch when he’s commanding it.” 

The Gamecocks didn’t score again after Petry’s blast–his 20th of the season–but it didn’t matter. 

Jones worked out of a two-on, one-out jam in the seventh while stitching together what was his best outing out of the bullpen. He’d scatter three hits over three scoreless innings, striking out four to just one walk. 

“He’s a hard guy to square up and he throws strikes,” Kingston said. “One walk in three innings? That’s what you need. You need strike throwers with good stuff who, when they get in good counts, can put guys away. That’s what he is.” 

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Chris Veach slammed the door in the ninth after Jones walked the leadoff batter. Veach struck out a pair on 11 pitches while throwing nine strikes. A strikeout of one of the best power hitters in the country–Jac Caglianone–punctuated the outing with Veach getting him on a changeup. 

“I thought the key to the outing was he established his fastball at 92 and 93 miles per hour for strikes at the knees early. Last time he pitched you could tell the team we were facing was basically sitting on the changeup and he was going to throw it every pitch,” Kingston said. 

“But it’s a special pitch. It’s a low spin rate. You hear all the time about high spin rates but it’s an incredibly low spin rate for a pitch. The movement on it and the time it takes to get to the plate is something hitters don’t see.” 

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Up next: South Carolina now goes for the sweep at 2 p.m. ET on the SEC Network Plus. Florida will start Jac Caglianone (5-1, 4.96 ERA) while South Carolina hasn’t named a starter yet. 

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