Every baseball player looks forward to opening day, but for Jack Mahoney, it’s different. The junior right hander had Tommy John surgery to repair his right elbow which was injured in May of his freshman season and wasn’t able to pitch all of last year, although he is a talented enough athlete that he did hit and play in the field some for South Carolina in 2022. Now fully healthy and armed with multiple pitches, including a fastball that head coach Mark Kingston said has been clocked at 96 miles per hour, Mahoney can’t wait for his first chance on the mound in 2023.
“The arm feels good,” Mahoney said. “It’s just nice to be strong and healthy. Obviously, it has been a while since I’ve been out there in front of everyone. It has been refreshing throwing in the scrimmages.
“Looking back on it now, it was kind of frustrating to have the freshman year that I had and then have to take my medicine with the injury. We took our time with the recovery. Sitting out (from pitching) last year and watching how last year went and wanting to be out there with the guys was really frustrating. It was hard to watch. I tried to be good teammate and know that my time was coming.”
Mahoney earned Perfect Game Freshman All-America- Second Team honors in 2021 after going 3-0 with a 1.62 earned run average and 39 strikeouts in 33.1 innings before the injury sideline him in May. Nearly two years later, Mahoney is back where he wants to be, physically and mentally, and now he wants to help get the Gamecocks where they need to be after injuries plagued the pitching staff last year, contributing to the program missing the postseason.
“I think every pitch in my repertoire has improved,” Mahoney said. “The surgery helped me focus on things that I never got to focus on before. All my pitches have more life to them. My fastball is good. It’s been up in the mid-90s. It has my good movement again, so it feels good. I look more like a pitcher on the mound. When I was younger, I just got up there and threw it. We’ve tweaked my mechanics, and I’m throwing more strikes. I’m using my body in a bit of a different way.
“A year like last year is so foreign to this program. That doesn’t happen. It’s not acceptable here. We know that, and the coaches know that. This fall has been about getting back to who we are and playing Gamecock baseball the right way. We’ve got the pieces, and we’ve got the arms.”
“God puts us in weird positions sometimes, and you just have to roll with it.”
Mahoney will be in the mix in competing for a spot in the weekend rotation, but he’s not too concerned about when he gets the ball.
“I just want to go out there and pitch,” Mahoney said. “We’ve had conversations about roles, but at the end of the day, whatever they need me to do, I’m going to do. It’s been a really long time since I’ve been out there, so anytime I can get out there on that mound and toe that rubber at Founders Park in front of the best fans in the country, I’m going to do it.”
While there is great competition on this year’s pitching staff, the team has bonded well during the offseason.
“We’re all best friends,” Mahoney said. “We push other every single day. It’s fun because we’ve taken the weight room a lot more seriously since the summer. A lot of us stayed during the summer, and we grew really close during that period. Whenever someone threw another plate on the squat bar, someone else would throw another plate on there. It gets really competitive here, and that’s what you want. We’re all really competitive, but at the end of the day we’re all pulling for each other.
“Sometimes it’s about things you don’t necessarily want to do. All fall we had 6 a.m.’s (practices), and as much as those weren’t fun, I think that helped bring all of us together. Since day one there has been a bond in that locker room that maybe we didn’t have last year. It’s a tight knit group.”
The Gamecocks also developed a team bond during some off-season sessions with the U.S. Army at Fort Jackson.
“The first day we went, and it was a mile and a half obstacle course,” Mahoney recalled. “The first time was just a walk-through, and they explained it to us. We still ran a mile and a half, and now we’re doing it for time, so we had to do it twice. The second time we rappelled this huge (40 feet) wall. It was funny seeing these tough guys in the locker room who can move the squat bar like nobody’s business, kind of get over a wall and look down and not really want to go down the thing! I was excited, and then it turned to scared really quick. I did it. I went down once, and I kissed the ground when I got down to it. That brought us together again. The last time we did these team-building mental challenges where they were simulating that we were at war and had to get across this ravine. It was a really cool experience.”
As the 2023 season gets under way on February 17 at Founders Park, Mahoney has put the injury behind him and hopes he can lead by example and help the Gamecocks get where they want to be.
“Everyone knows the expectation around here.” Mahoney said. “We all know we’ve got to win. The expectation here is the postseason, and that’s what we’re focused on.
“I’m just itching to get out there. I’m extremely grateful that I’m in this position right now. I remember the (injury) news, and it felt like the biggest gut punch. God puts us in weird positions sometimes, and you just have to roll with it. The day that I get to run out there, I’m going to take a look around and soak it in.”