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February 12, 2014

Is Seddon the next great USC closer?



Elite closers have been a staple in Columbia for the past decade or more.

From Scott Barber (15 saves in 2000) to Lee Gronkiewicz (19 saves in 2001) to Blake Taylor (21 saves in 2002) to Chad Blackwell (20 saves in 2004) to Matt Price (43 saves from 2010-12) to Tyler Webb (17 saves in 2013), the royal line of champion closers for the Gamecocks dates back to the beginnings of USC's baseball revival.

Is junior righthander Joel Seddon ready to join that special group and earn his place as one of the best closers in school history?

Starting Saturday when South Carolina squares off with Bucknell in a season-opening separate admission doubleheader, we'll begin to get an answer to that question.

Seddon, who pitched 18 innings in 11 appearances a year ago and compiled a 1-1 record and 4.50 ERA, has no career saves, but that statistic didn't stop USC coach Chad Holbrook from naming the St. Clair, Mich., native as USC's closer at the outset of the season.

Seddon's success out of the bullpen during fall practice and preseason camp allowed Holbrook to tab powerful freshman Wil Crowe as the third weekend starter.

Seddon's rise to prominence on the Gamecock staff jumpstarted last summer when he excelled for the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod League. In 16 games, he had a 3-2 record with a 2.30 ERA, 24 strikeouts and 12 walks in 31.1 innings pitched.

"He got up there and pitched well against some of the best college hitters in the country," Holbrook said Monday night on the weekly "Inside the Roost" program. "That gave him some confidence. Joel has always had good stuff. But what has happened over the last six to nine months has made him an elite college pitcher.

"His command improved drastically. He can throw all of his pitches where he wants them. He can throw his fastball going in or out, up or down. He can move it around. He has great command of his breaking ball. Not only does he have better command of his changeup, it has improved. It's now an above-average pitch."

Seddon's arsenal now features four different pitches (fastball, change, two types of breaking pitches) he can call upon to get Division I college batters out, Holbrook said.

"He has four really good pitches that he can go to at any time," Holbrook said. "The ability to throw those pitches where he wants to is the biggest difference between Joel today and where Joel was last spring when he was pitching for us."

Together with freshman Taylor Widener, Kyle Martin could serve dual roles at first base and on the mound after a solid preseason camp at both positions.

Holbrook envisions Martin has a left-handed specialist able to come in and get a batter or two out when the circumstances are right.

"Kyle has done a great job. He's a very solid first baseman and has swung the bat well," Holbrook said. "In BP lately, he has been really good. He can provide some power numbers for us this year. And he's done a nice job on the mound, too. We're going to use him out of the bullpen to come in and get a lefty out. He can throw strikes and he's very composed. We feel good about putting him on the mound."

Holbrook enjoys a plethora of options at first base. In addition to Martin and Widener, an impressive freshman from South Aiken High School, Connor Bright could play there as well if needed.

"He was a shortstop in high school, so he can handle a glove very well," Holbrook said of Bright. "That's one of the neat things about our team. We have some guys that can play all over the field. Hopefully, that will make it easier on me when I have to make some difficult decisions."

DM


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