South Carolina lost two bullpen stalwarts in Adam Westmoreland and Tyler Webb when last season ended, but took a step toward replacing the ever-dependable lefties with a committee of young relievers this weekend against Bucknell.
Freshman starter Wil Crowe may have stolen the show in South Carolina's 12-0 triumph over Bucknell Sunday afternoon, but the Gamecocks who relieved him on the mound weren't shabby either.
Freshman lefty Josh Reagan, freshman right-hander Cody Mincey and junior right-hander Joel Seddon continued the shutout through the final 2 2/3 innings.
Reagan, expected to be named USC's midweek starter for the season, recorded two outs in the seventh inning, giving up Bucknell's only hit and striking out a batter. And Cody Mincey ran his fastball up to 92 miles per hour to strike out two batters in a 1-2-3 eighth inning.
"I was very impressed with the way Cody threw the ball today," said head coach Chad Holbrook. "He had the best fastball that he's had since he's been here. And Josh was Josh. Josh can pitch."
USC's newest closer, Joel Seddon, got his first action of the season on the mound Sunday. Seddon wasn't faced with a pressure situation, as the Gamecocks were leading 12-0 when he took the mound in the top of the ninth, but made mincemeat of three straight batters - striking out two - regardless. Holbrook said Seddon's dominance was nothing new.
"Joel, how he threw tonight, that's how he's been throwing the last three or four weeks since we came back from winter break," Holbrook said. "That's how he's been throwing. "
Apart from freshman right-hander Matthew Vogel, who gave up four runs in 1.2 innings, five relievers shut out Bucknell over 6.1 innings in Saturday's double-header. Holbrook said the weekend left him feeling good about his bullpen.
"The thing that stood out the most to me was I was very impressed with the way our bullpen threw the ball," Holbrook said. "I said yesterday, I think it's going to be a very strong bullpen, but it'll be done by a group of guys, and I think that you see that we do have some depth and we do have some balance in our bullpen."
Holbrook says he expects more relievers to share the load, a major contrast from last year, when Westmoreland and Webb ate up a massive share of the relief work.
"What I take away as a coach these last three games is that makes me feel pretty good that we got a number of guys that we can go to after our starters hopefully get us to the sixth inning to help finish the game," Holbrook said. "Who knows, sometimes you might see Seddon - we might have to go to him in a big spot, we might have to go to him in the seventh. Now I feel comfortable going to Mincey later. We can pass the baton from kid to kid depending on the opponent. Having a versatile bullpen makes me feel good as a coach."
MAKING THE PIECES FIT. Holbrook also said he likes the versatility he has in his lineup. Sunday, junior slugger Joey Pankake played in left field, while sophomore infielder DC Arendas played third base. The move bumped left-fielder Elliott Caldwell out of the lineup, but strengthened South Carolina's infield defense. It also paid off that Arendas and Pankake both batted .400 on the weekend, while Caldwell was hitless in four at-bats.
Holbrook says the lineup is still far from set in stone.
"I want Joey to play some more third base, and he will be in there from time to time," Holbrook said. "I told Joey before the game, 'You're going to have to hang in there with me.' Because his versatility allows us to get more bats in our lineup, our more offensive guys. And on top of that, we've very comfortable with the way DC plays defense."
Holbrook said being able to move Pankake around the field gives him plenty of choices and will allow him to re-shape the lineup throughout the year, depending on the opponent.
"He's going to play some in left, and he's going to play some at third. He's not going to be our everyday left fielder; I'm not ready to say that," Holbrook said. "He's an infielder by trade, and I think he's become a darn good third baseman.
"But there's times I want Taylor (Widener) to hit. There's going to be times I want another DH to hit, and it's too difficult for me to DH DC all the time knowing one of our better infielders is DHing. That's not smart coaching. Joey allows us to put our best defensive team on the field from time to time, and to get another hitter I want in there. His versatility is making my job a little bit easier."
OLD-TIMERS. South Carolina's starting lineup Sunday included three sophomores and five juniors, and the Gamecocks plated 12 runs to cap a 41-run weekend. Holbrook sees a correlation between the lineup's experience and its success at the plate.
"I do feel good about our offensive team. We started a freshman (Taylor Widener) today in our DH spot, but we can be pretty old with the lineup that we put on the field as far as experience," Holbrook said. "Coach Tanner always told me you win a lot more games with 21- and 22-year-olds than you do with 18- and 19-year-olds. And that's true. And we can put some 21- and 22-year-olds out there. You need to be old in this league."
One of those veterans, junior first baseman Kyle Martin, put an exclamation mark on a solid weekend at the plate with a 4-4, RBI performance Sunday. The Greenville, S.C., native batted 7-9 (.778) for the weekend, and also leads the team in slugging (.899).
"I'm still trying to figure out my timing, still trying to get everything going," Martin said. "My main objective for the weekend was to get everything working, and I just kept trying to hit the ball through the middle. That's all I was trying to do.
South Carolina used three homers to drive in six of its 12 runs Sunday. Holbrook says he was a little surprised with the Gamecocks' offensive explosion against Bucknell, even after watching USC's first-team light up the scoreboard in preseason intrasquad scrimmages.
"With these bats and the way college baseball has changed, I didn't expect that," Holbrook said. "I did think that we had a chance to have some pretty good offensive players in the lineup."
UP NEXT. The Gamecocks play host to Presbyterian Tuesday at 4 p.m. Holbrook said he didn't know who would start the game for South Carolina, but he doesn't expect his team's first midweek game to be a cake walk.
"We'll expect a tight, close game," Holbrook said. "Coach Pollock's players come here ready to play and they always give us all we can handle. I would expect nothing else but that, and I think it'll be a close, tight game."
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