Second-ranked South Carolina received a soothing injection for its battered outfield on Wednesday - Jake Williams, suspended from the team since April 12, has been reinstated to the team and will travel with the Gamecocks as they head to Mississippi State on Thursday. A USC spokesman confirmed on Wednesday morning that Williams' suspension has been lifted.
Williams was twice cited for transporting alcohol to a minor on April 9, after Cayce police ticketed him during a party at his house off Bluff Road. During a routine search of the house, police found marijuana growing in a small refrigerator in a hall closet. The plants and incubating unit were claimed by one of Williams' roommates, who is not affiliated with the baseball team.
Williams was suspended indefinitely by coach Ray Tanner on April 12, Tanner announcing it just before the Gamecocks lost 2-0 at The Citadel. Williams missed that game, the three-game series victory over Vanderbilt and Tuesday's 8-3 win at College of Charleston.
The Gamecocks were sorely in need of an extra body, after losing outfielder Adam Matthews to a severely strained hamstring during the Vanderbilt series. While Robert Beary and Evan Marzilli could fill in the corner spots around Jackie Bradley Jr., there was really nobody left behind them, and it began to affect the rest of the team's depth.
Beary, the team's backup catcher, had to play in the field, meaning catcher Brady Thomas had to play behind the plate every game. Thomas is usually given a game off per week to rest, and sometimes plays designated hitter. On Tuesday, Thomas caught, Beary played in right field and freshman Greg Brodzinski DH'ed before pitcher Steven Neff replaced Brodzinski in the fifth inning.
Williams' return gives the Gamecocks another solid outfielder, a plus defender who has shown some pop in his bat. He was named USC's MVP of the USC-Clemson series after, among other things, belting a pinch-hit three-run home run to pave the way to a 5-4 rubber-match win over the Tigers.
Williams had been struggling offensively before the suspension, sliding to a .286 batting average, but has two homers and 18 RBIs. It opens several possibilities for the Gamecocks - they could play Williams in the field or DH him to give Beary room to catch, which would give Thomas a day to rest.
"And yes I'm back 'cause I never did front," Williams tweeted on Wednesday morning. His teammates were quick to follow him with words of support and welcome.
Williams' court date to face the two citations was scheduled for Thursday, although a source within the Columbia law enforcement community told GamecockCentral.com at the time of the ticketing that the charges would be dropped and thrown out of court. The Gamecocks are set to leave for Starkville at 10:40 a.m. on Thursday, and the case is still set to be heard on Thursday, according to the Cayce court clerk.
The Gamecocks begin a three-game series at Mississippi State at 8 p.m. on Friday. USC (29-7, 12-3 SEC) is in first place in the SEC East and the overall league at the halfway point of the conference season, with tiebreakers over the next two winningest teams in the league (Vanderbilt and Florida).
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