Max Scrock, Kyle Martin
True freshman. Opening Weekend. First start. Big crowd.
Welcome to the Wil Crowe era of South Carolina baseball.
The freshman from Sevierville, Tenn., allowed no hits over 6.1 innings of work and struck out five in No. 7 South Carolina's 12-0 win over Bucknell to earn the series sweep Sunday at Carolina Stadium.
A crowd of 7,512 gave Crowe a standing ovation when he was lifted after retiring the first batter in the seventh. Demonstrating a command of several pitches and mixing speeds ranging from the 90s to the 70s, Crowe looked comfortable from the outset and improved as the game went on. He faced the minimum number of hitters in four of six innings and his only blemishes were a hit batter in the second and a walk in the third.
South Carolina (3-0) coach Chad Holbrook said he couldn't recall a more impressive first start by a freshmen in his 21-year coaching carer.
"I don't really remember one as impressive as that," Holbrook said. "It was flawless.
"He has a mentality, he has a presence about him that exudes confidence. He had it when we saw him pitch in high school and he's had it ever since he stepped on campus. He believes in himself. You hate to put expectations on a freshman or a young kid, but when we recruited him we thought he had a chance to be a special pitcher here.
"I hope that rings true. There's a lot of time between now and then, and I'm lucky that we got him for three years."
Crowe, as soft-spoken off the mound as he is ferocious on it, said he was happy to get his first carer win.
"It just felt good to get out there for the first time. I just wanted to do my best to help the team win," Crowe said. "I tried to block everything out, just go out there and throw strikes.
"I felt like I had some good stuff today. Just throw strikes, command the zone. I have four or five (pitches) in and out that work off the fastball.
"I definitely didn't think I was going to pitch that good or throw that well. It's all on my team and my defense behind me."
Besides the 7,512 fans who Crowe amazed, he also amazed 34 more who aren't as easily impressed - his teammates, including veteran contributors Max Schrock, whose 3-run home run in the fifth broke the game open, and Kyle Martin, who went 4-for-4 with an RBI Sunday and was 7-for-9 for the weekend.
"In the fall and the spring and everything he always had great command, great control," Martin said. "He's always been a competitor. He's a great pitcher. He likes to work off his fastball, he has great command of everything and his confidence is really excelling right now."
When asked if he was surprised at Crowe's effectiveness, Schrock was quick to answer.
"Not at all," Scrock said. "Not at all. The word I like to use for Will is he's a bulldog. He's going to continue to be a bulldog for our organization and our team."
Having scored in the first innings against Bucknell in both games Saturday, the Gamecocks did it again Sunday, plating two unearned runs in the first. A one-out single up the middle from Schroclk was followed by a fly out to deep center from Joey Pankake. Martin then ripped a single into right-center field and both runners advanced on a wild pitch. Grayson Greiner then sent a one-hopper to short, which Bucknell shortstop Greg Wasikowski fielded cleanly but threw over the head of the first baseman, allowing both runs to score.
USC added a run in the third when Pankake got his first RBI of the season on his first home run of the year, a solo shot that landed on the concourse in left field, but the game was still in doubt heading into the bottom of the fifth and the Gamecocks clinging to a 3-0 advantage. That's when the wheels came off for Bison starter Andrew Andreychik, as the Gamecocks led off the inning with a single from Tanner English followed by a double to the corner in right field from Marcus Mooney.
With two on and no outs, Schrock, who was 1-for-6 in two games Saturday, crushed a no-doubt home run to right field that broke the game open.
"I was looking for my pitch and I saw it," Schrock said. "I have to give some credit to coach (Brian) Buscher for calming me down a little bit before the game.
"Yesterday, the last two games I put a little pressure on myself, and coach Buscher is so good at talking to you and relating, and I have to give him credit for that home run."
South Carolina got a fourth run in the inning from a Greiner fielder's choice RBI, and it was Greiner who helped the Gamecocks add three more runs in the sixth with a 2-run homer that hugged the line in left for his first home run of the year. For the weekend, Greiner was 5-for-11 (.455) with 7 RBIs, tying him for for the team lead in RBIs with Connor Bright, who added two more Sunday with a 2-RBI double in the bottom of the eighth.
Once Crowe left the game, the pitchers following him were just as effective. Josh Reagan, Cody Mincey and Joel Seddon threw 2.2 innings of one-hit, no-run baseball, striking out five and walking none to preserve the one-hit shutout.
"I think the thing that kind of stood out to me was I was very impressed the way our bullpen threw the ball," Holbrook said. "I think you see that we do have some depth and we do have some balance in our bullpen.
"Joel, how he threw tonight, that's how he's been throwing the last three to four weeks since we came back from winter break. I was very impressed with the way Cody threw the ball today. He had the best fastball he's had since he's been here. Josh was Josh. Josh can pitch.
"We have a number of guys we can go to after our starters hopefully get us to the sixth inning to help finish the game. Having a versatile bullpen, that makes me feel good as a coach."
So does having Crowe on the mound to bolster the already lethal 1-2 combination of starters Jordan Montgomery and Jack Wynkoop. Holbrook said he looks forward to how Crowe handles not just the success that will come his way but also the ups and downs that the game of baseball throws every player.
"(Crowe) is going to have some adversity strike," Holbrook said. "He'll get knocked off his perch, but I look forward to seeing how he responds to that, too, because the kid is a bulldog."
Up Next: The Gamecocks host Presbyterian on Tuesday.