After an explosive 2023 season that saw the Gamecocks ranked among the nation’s best while earning a trip to the NCAA Super Regional, South Carolina Baseball looks to pick up where it left off and make another run to Omaha for the College World Series in 2024. After going 42-21, head coach Mark Kingston feels good about what he brings back from last year as well as what he has brought in with key newcomers.
“We have a lot of our hitters back,” said Kingston of his team that ranked third in the SEC in on-base percentage (.408) last year and hit 117 home runs. “Offensively, we feel really good about the production that we’re returning. We saw a lot of improvement in the fall from returning players, and we added some really nice hitters through the portal and through our freshmen recruiting. We can have a really advanced offensive ball club.”
Headlining the list of returning position players are sophomore outfielder Ethan Petry, who earned numerous All-American honors last year, after leading the team in the Triple Crown stats, batting .376 with 23 home runs and 75 RBI, as well as junior catcher Cole Messina, who earned First Team All-SEC and Second Team All-America honors after batting .307 with 17 home runs and 65 RBI. Senior first baseman Gavin Casas (.259, 19 HR, 56 RBI), who could also see time at third, is back as well, along with junior third baseman Talmadge LeCroy (.289, 4 HR, 42 RBI).
“Ethan Petry just keeps getting better and better, which is hard to believe,” Kingston said. “He is as talented as any hitter in the country. He’s big. He’s strong, and he has tremendous eyes. He has great reactions at the plate. He is an elite competitor as well.
“Gavin has gotten himself in much better shape this year. Our hopes are that he continues to build on last year’s offensive season. We feel really good at catcher with Cole Messina. Freshman Ryan Bakes is also very talented and was one of our best hitters in the fall.”
In the middle infield, sophomore Will Tippett and freshman Lee Ellis are competing for a starting spot at shortstop, while Parker Noland, a fifth-year transfer from Vanderbilt where he hit .279 with nine home runs and 39 RBI last year, is the leading candidate at second base.
“Will Tippett was our most improved player this fall, hitting .370, and he showed tremendous development,” Kingston said. “Parker Noland is a veteran who has a lot of experience, had played in Omaha, and is a proven left-handed hitter.”
As for the outfield, in addition to Petry, keep an eye on junior transfers Blake Jackson, who hit .277 with five home runs and 28 RBI last year at Charlotte, and Kennedy Jones, who hit .357 with 14 HR and 43 RBI at UNC Greensboro last year, to compete with other returners such as junior Evan Stone (.207, 3 HR, 18 RBI) and fifth-year senior Dylan Brewer (.240, 8 HR, 27 RBI) in 2024. Junior Carson Hornung (.248, 4 HR, 27 RBI), Tyler Causey, a senior transfer from North Carolina who missed last year with injury, and Ryan Bakes are among the top competitors for the DH spot.
“We have an ‘Omaha-caliber’ offense. If we stay healthy, we could potentially be better than we were last year.”
On the mound, last year’s top weekend starters Will Sanders, Jack Mahoney, and Noah Hall moved on to professional baseball, but there are plenty of talented arms competing for spots in the rotation.
“We have returning players who have enjoyed success, but it’s just a matter of figuring out how we put the pieces of the puzzle together,” Kingston said. “The early part of this spring will be important to determine what roles they will play. From a velocity standpoint, we’re as good as we’ve ever been. It’s just a matter of making sure we have guys who can throw strikes and command their secondary pitches.
“I think you have to start with (juniors) Eli Jones (4-5, 3.95 ERA) and Matthew Becker (4-3, 4.83 ERA) because they have the most starts under their belts. Then you have (redshirt soph.) Roman Kimball, who is an extremely talented transfer (Notre Dame) that missed last year after Tommy John surgery, but he will be full-go this year. They’re all very mature, and they’re also great competitors. Eli Jones’ fastball was up to 95 in the fall. He has always been a good strike thrower and has good off-speed pitches. Matthew Becker is an advanced left-handed pitcher who is getting better and better. Roman Kimball throws in the 94 to 96 range and has a very good breaking ball.
“You also have to look at Jevarra Martin, who is a very advanced freshman, and (junior) Dylan Eskew has probably been our most improved pitcher. He’s stronger, more confident, and his stuff has really ticked up this year. Tyler Pitzer is another young and talented freshman that has a chance to really contribute for us.”
The Gamecocks also return junior Chris Veach, (2-1, 6 SV, 3.46 ERA) who proved to be valuable in the bullpen.
Expectations will be high for the Gamecocks to be among the national elite again this year, and of course the hope is that they can play their best ball at the right time and make a run to the College World Series.
“We have an ‘Omaha-caliber’ offense,” Kingston said. “If we stay healthy, we could potentially be better than we were last year there because of our experience and continued progress. Now, we just have to see how the pitching will come together. At this time last year, we knew we had a lot of horses on the mound, but the question was how we were going to score runs. (Pitching coach) Matt Williams has done a really nice job with our pitchers, so I think we’re going to figure out how to make it work just like we did with the offense last year.”