COLUMBIA — South Carolina baseball coach Chad Holbrook entered his weekend series against Rider hoping to find some steadiness for his pitching staff, which was shaken when an elbow bone stress reaction sidelined ace left-hander Jordan Montgomery for at least two series.
For the second straight weekend, the Gamecocks bookended a series with impressive starts, while Colby Holmes looked sloppy on Saturday. As Holbrook moves past the sweep of Rider, which culminated with Sunday’s 1-0 win, he finds himself perhaps needing to tweak his starting rotation even more than he thought he’d have to after Montgomery’s injury.
But that might not be a bad thing for the Gamecocks (13-2) as they prepare for this weekend’s Southeastern Conference opener at Missouri, after Tuesday and Wednesday home games against USC Upstate and Davidson.
Sophomore righty Evan Beal was masterful in Friday’s 2-0 win. He might be the Gamecocks’ most talented pitcher, and he supported that notion against Rider with an 88-90 mph fastball and an 85-87 mph slider that bit late. He allowed one hit in six innings, struck out six and walked two.
Senior lefty Nolan Belcher impressed again Sunday, after throwing a three-hit shutout complete game to cap last weekend’s series against Clemson. Against Rider, Belcher allowed eight hits and no runs in seven innings, struck out seven and walked nobody. Nineteen of the 29 batters he faced had 0-1 counts. Through four starts, he has a 1.63 ERA, 30 strikeouts and one walk.
“My confidence is pretty high right now,” he said. “Throwing strike one, I’m doing that a lot better than I ever have before, and trying to get the ball in on righties a lot more than I have in the past. That seems to be helping.”
Said Holbrook: “When you’re a college pitcher and you can throw 2-0 and 3-1 changeups, that’s tough. And that’s what he can do. He feels comfortable throwing any pitch in any count, no matter what the situation.
“I’m tickled to death with where are (overall as a team), but with Jordan being out and Colby struggling a bit, there’s some concerns. But everybody’s got those.”