Kerry's brilliance, homers power Gamecocks to win over Clemson
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS BASEBALL
Coming out of fall ball, if you had told Brett Kerry he’d be in the situation he’d be in Friday night, he probably wouldn’t believe it.
But there he was, after being challenged by the coaching staff to step his game up in the spring, pitching in a one-run game in a hostile Clemson environment.
Not only was he pitching, but he dominated a veteran Clemson lineup to the tune of 3.1 scoreless innings, striking out seven of the 12 batters he faced as the Gamecocks beat Clemson 5-4 to win its fourth-straight series opener.
“It would have been hard to, but like I said it was a mental change,” Kerry said. “I knew I could be this type of pitcher. I knew it was a more mental part of the game. Of course I’m not thinking I’m going to but you have to have the mindset of this is what I want to be able to do one day.”
Kerry came in with two outs and a man on in the sixth and got one of the Tigers’ better hitters in Logan Davidson to ground out to end the threat before scattering two hits over the final three innings.
He’d strike out the side in the eighth inning, all looking, before working around a one-out single in the ninth against the top of the Clemson order. He’d strike out the final two batters he faced, both swinging to pick up his second-career save.
Of the 14 batters he faced, seven saw first-pitch strikes.
“Just getting ahead early, it really gives you the ability to throw strikes and throw your off-speed,” Kerry said. “They don’t know it’s coming but when you get back in counts you’re throwing fastballs so they really looking for it.”
Kerry was part of a bullpen that pitched 6.2 innings of one-run ball after starter Carmen Mlodzinski left the game in the third with what head coach Mark Kingston thinks is a fractured foot.
Mlodzinski (0-0, 5.91 ERA) gave up three runs on five hits and three walks in just 2.1 innings before leaving early with the foot injury with the Gamecocks up by two runs.
Wesley Sweatt came in and gave up an RBI single with the run credited to Mlodzinski and gave up just one run over the rest of his outing, a sac fly in the fourth inning. Sweatt (1-0, 1.35 ERA) picked up his first–career win pitching 1.2 innings and striking out one.
Cam Tringali and Kerry combined to pitch the final five innings, pitching a shutout and striking out nine. Of the four pitchers to throw Friday, all were underclassmen and three were freshmen.
“You’re going to have to win big games at some point with those guys, might as well do it now,” Kingston said.
After falling behind 2-0 in the first inning, the Gamecocks didn’t take long to claim the lead.
After Andrew Eyster hit his second home run in three games—a two-run shot to right-center—to tie the game, TJ Hopkins belted the go-ahead, three-run shot to left-center as part of a five-run second inning.
“It felt good. I was going through a little skid. It’s baseball,” Hopkins said. “They got me with an inside fastball up and in and I figured they’d come back with it. They did and I didn’t miss it.”
It was Hopkins’s third home run of the year but his first hit in three games.
“This week he got in the office with Coach Current and looked at some video from when he was doing well and what he was doing when he struggled. Obviously I think they figured it out.”
The Gamecocks also got some defensive help from Luke Berryhill, who was battling a shoulder injury and turned in a few good defensive plays. He was able to frame pitches well and threw two runners out.
“Luke’s getting better every week, and we need him to be,” Kingston said. “He’s obviously a big part of our offense and he’s really done a nice job behind the plate.”
Player of the game: Kerry was as dominant as he's been all season. He struck out seven and picked up his second save of the year.
Key moment: Against the top of the order in the ninth, Kerry struck out two and pitched around a one-out single for the win.
Up next: Game two of the series is Saturday at 1 p.m. from Fluor Field in Greenville with freshman LHP Dylan Harley expected to start. The game will be streamed on the SEC Network Plus.