It started in the on-deck circle. In a tie game, Madison Stokes was at the plate with a runner on first. Hunter Taylor stoop in the wings, and that’s when head coach Chad Holbrook started to chat.
Holbrook told Taylor he was going to have Stokes bunt and Taylor was going to deliver the game-winning hit.
Taylor, who was hitting .188 before Saturday and had started only three games all season chuckled and said, “All right, I’ll do it.”
Poetic justice shone through, and he did. Swinging on the first pitch he saw, Taylor dribbled a ball to third that hit the base and rocketed straight up into the air and into the outfield.
It turned into a RBI double scoring Dom Thompson-Williams, and proved to be—just like Holbrook said it would—the game-winning hit.
“I was hoping it got by him and I saw the bag in the background and I thought, ‘Wow, that’d be great, too,”’ Taylor said. “Then it popped up over it and I was just trying to get to second.”
In a weekend where hits and lucky breaks were hard to come by, it seems like the levy broke for just one second to give the Gamecocks a win in an elimination game.
“God, God is watching,” Thompson-Williams said, laughing. “We hadn’t had a break all weekend and we finally got one. It came at the right time.”
But Taylor’s path to postseason clutch hitting is a long and circuitous one. Coming into this year as the only catcher with experience at South Carolina, he sat and watched as John Jones and Chris Cullen took most of the reps behind the plate.
The sophomore was relegated mostly to catching bullpen sessions during practice, but according to Holbrook, didn’t raise cane once about his situation.
“He’s been a great teammate to all these kids in the locker room,” Holbrook said. “If anyone in that locker room has a reason to gripe about playing time it’d be him. But he kept catching every bullpen and had the right attitude. He deserved to get the game-winning hit in an NCAA Tournament game.”
And when John Jones, who was in the conversation to start in Saturday’s elimination game, was late to the team’s pregame meal, it was Taylor who would catch in a win-or-go-home game.
Taylor didn’t disappoint. He went 1-for-3 with a walk. He plated the Gamecocks’ second run. He drove in the game winning one. The man who had 16 at-bats this season before playing Duke, thrived in the most important game of the Gamecocks’ season.
“It was so cool that Hunter Taylor got to do it,” junior pitcher Josh Reagan said. “He’s been the best teammate anyone could ask for. It was really cool to see him do that.”
Taylor started suffering cramps after the double and spent time in the cold tub after the game. It’s unclear if he’ll be available to catch tomorrow. Holbrook said Jones will be available.
But what is clear is the impact Taylor’s had on this lineup, even if it wasn’t on the field through the regular season. He admitted it can be hard at times, but said he loves his teammates and would do anything for them.
That’s something that can endear himself to a coach regardless of playing time.
“If my two boys become the same type of teammate Hunter Taylor is, I’ll be a happy dad,” Holbrook said. “That’s about the best compliment I can give that kid.”
The Gamecocks play Sunday at noon against the loser of the UNCW and Rhode Island game.