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Gamecocks conclude fall scrimmages with shot at preseason No. 1

Coming out of fall scrimmages last year, the Gamecocks were still answering some questions about the unknown: lack of experience in the field, only returning one weekend starter from the past year and trying to scratch and claw their way back to the postseason, which they missed for the first time in over a decade.

This year—after an SEC East Championship and being a Regional and Super Regional host—South Carolina isn’t an unproven commodity.

Also see: Monday Insider Report

The Gamecocks, which have been a perennial college baseball powerhouse since the 1970s, are one of a handful of teams who could be ranked No. 1 in the first preseason polls, D1Baseball’s Aaron Fitt tweeted this weekend.

“That’s neat for our fans to talk about and neat for the media to talk about, but we’re by far and away not close to being the number one team in the nation as we sit here right now,” head coach Chad Holbrook said. “Do we have the talent to be talked about as one of the nation’s best teams? Yeah, I think so. We got to continue to improve. If we’re thought about as one of the top 10 or 15 teams in the country then that’s good enough for me.”

The Gamecocks return two weekend starters from last season in Clarke Schmidt and Adam Hill along with former weekend starter Wil Crowe coming off Tommy John surgery.

They return seven players who have started at least 29 games last season: Jonah Bride, Alex Destino, John Jones, LT Tolbert, Chris Cullen, TJ Hopkins and Madison Stokes.

Of those seven, three are sophomores (Tolbert, Cullen and Hopkins). For Holbrook, returning so much young and experienced talent does nothing but good.

“We’ve got some guys who have been through the ringer in this league and that’s always an advantage in my book. It’s tough to play in this league with a bunch of freshmen all over the field,” he said. “We’ve got some guys who understand what this league’s all about. That makes me feel comfortable as a coach. We have the makings to be a really good team, but we have to continue to work hard.”

Also see: Wednesday's Carolina Confidential

On the mound, the Gamecocks have Schmidt and Hill, who were two-thirds of a weekend rotation that finished 26-11 with an ERA of 3.38. Crowe, who has a career 3.52 ERA in 24 appearances, is coming back from surgery and will be an integral part of the Gamecocks’ weekend rotation.

After pitching this summer for the Lexington County Blowfish, he threw ever weekend this fall and posted 3.1 innings with a 2.70 ERA (one earned run) in the Garnet and Black World Series.

Holbrook left fall scrimmages optimistic about Crowe’s future impact, but said he still needs to work on his off-speed pitches. Crowe currently throws a curveball and changeup along with his fastball.

“I think he’s back. I think he’s certainly pitched at a high level almost all fall,” Holbrook said. “His velocity is back, his breaking ball has a little bit more bite to it. I think he’s very confident; I think he’s in the best shape of his life. I’m optimistic. I think Wil’s positioned himself to have a great year.”

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The Gamecocks finished their Garnet and Black World Series Sunday, the last open scrimmage until winter scrimmages begin in January.

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With the expectations higher than they were last season, they’ll continue to practice with the hope of returning to the College World Series for the first time since 2012.

“I feel like we have a good enough chance to be one of the last teams standing. But you got to play well and you have to improve and the ball’s got to bounce your way. It’s nice to be thought of as one of the best teams in the country, it’s nice to be in that conversation. But that’s not going to help us come game one in February.”

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