Coming into the season, Graham Lawson didn’t know what his role would be entering a season with three entrenched starters and an experienced front to the Gamecocks’ bullpen.
“I knew after talking with Coach (Jerry) Meyers early that this would have a chance of happening with midweeks,” Lawson said. “I think they really like me out of the bullpen, too, but they told me my role would be universal. So after we had that talk, I prepared for both.”
But after his performance in Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Charleston Southern, he could be chiseling out a role as a weeknight starter.
The junior college transfer made his second start of the season against the Buccaneers and would mow through the lineup in his first outing since March 7. He allowed just two base runners in five scoreless innings. He also picked up two strikeouts.
Of the 15 outs he recorded, he had six ground balls and fly outs each and induced a smooth 4-6-3 double play to end the third inning.
“I know my role. I’m a boring guy; I roll a lot of ground balls,” Lawson said. “I try to embrace that role.”
He threw 57 pitches, which he said shocked him the count was so low. Of those almost 60 pitches, 41 were strikes as he picked up his second win of the season.
“The ball was sinking and running,” head coach Chad Holbrook said. “He had command of the strike zone. Sometimes that gets away from him, but it didn’t tonight. It was a big performance from him.”
Relief pitchers John Parke, Reed Scott and Colie Bowers preserved the shutout, going four innings and giving up a combined three hits while striking out three.
Bowers got a clutch pop up in the eighth inning with Buccaneer runners on second and third with two outs to maintain the shutout and keep the momentum in the home dugout.
The only scoring breakthrough came in the fifth inning when the Gamecocks (15-5, 3-0 SEC) plated all three of their runs. The inning started with back-to-back singles from LT Tolbert and Madison Stokes.
Hunter Taylor plated the first run on a sacrifice fly and Alex Destino singled home Stokes three batters later. The third run came across on a bases-loaded walk issued to Jacob Olson.
Taylor, filling in for an injured Cullen, went 2-for-2 with a double and an RBI. After opting not to transfer and come back to Columbia for his junior season, he’s hitting .423 and is tied for second on the team with four doubles.
“I’m hitting it hard. I’m not trying to do too much, just staying up the middle and hitting it hard whether it be a fastball or curveball or whatever until you get two strikes and then working the other side of the field,” Taylor said. “I’m just hitting it hard, I don’t care where.”
The Gamecocks boast an eight-game win streak after the shutout, the team’s second of the season. The first came in a 2-0 win over Clemson March 3.
They’ll put the win streak on the line this week as they host Alabama for three games in their SEC home opener. The Gamecocks clinched the SEC East last season after sweeping the Tide, but Holbrook knows anything can happen in SEC play.
First pitch Friday is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“Hopefully we’ll play better than them and that usually makes the difference,” Holbrook said. “If they put it together on any given weekend, they’ll beat your tail. So we certainly have to be ready to go.”
Play of the Game: Bowers final out in the eighth. With Charleston Southern looking for some kind of momentum to cling to and having two runners in scoring position, Bowers made sure all of the momentum stayed in the home dugout. He got an inning-ending pop up and preserved the shutout.
Top Performer: Graham Lawson. The junior college transfer making just his second-career start was exceptional, making quick work of the Buccaneers, giving up just two hits in five innings.
Up Next: The Gamecocks will start their home SEC slate, hosting Alabama for a three-game series starting Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.