COLUMBIA — Brison Celek watched from a rented house in ?Columbia as his South Carolina teammates won the 2010 College World ?Series. He was on a summer league road trip with the Columbia Blowfish in Morehead City, N.C., when the Gamecocks won it all in Omaha last June.
But when the most high-profile ?series of the college baseball season was on the line Saturday before ?another sellout crowd of 8,242 at Carolina Stadium, head coach Ray Tanner didn’t hesitate in picking a pinch-hitter.
Near brilliance: Celek lined a fastball that zoomed deep to right-center field before settling into the glove of hustling Gators center fielder Daniel Pigott for the third out in the bottom of the ninth inning. No. 1-ranked Florida escaped with a 5-4 victory.
“Coach Tanner told me to go ahead and try and get a good pitch,” Celek said. “He said, ‘Don’t take; try and hit one out.’ I just couldn’t hit it quite far enough.”
Perseverance has paid off. Celek, a former Bishop England High School catcher, is finally getting a chance to contribute in his third year at South Carolina. He is batting .357 — 5 for 14 — coming into the Gamecocks’ game tonight against The Citadel at Riley Park.
Both teams are coming off a tough week.
The Citadel (9-14) was swept in a three-game series at Minnesota, losing 5-0 in Game 3 at the Metrodome on Sunday before a crowd of 240.
The Gamecocks (17-7) fell to 1-5 in the SEC with two losses to Florida after a Thursday night victory over the Gators. They lost to Wofford on Wednesday night.
Because of his own progress and the struggles of others, Celek is an option in any game.
“When he’s been in there, he’s been pretty aggressive,” Tanner said of the redshirt sophomore. “He needs a few more at-bats, and hopefully we’ll be able to get him some.”
Celek describes his star-crossed experience at South Carolina as a “fun ride.”
He arrived on campus having played for two state championship teams at Bishop England and a Diamond Devils summer team that won the 17U World Bat National Championship. Celek started in his first college game in February of 2010, and scored a run.
But he got only eight at-bats all season and did not make South Carolina’s 35-player roster for 2011.
“It didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to,” Celek said. “I was behind a lot of seniors. But I stuck by my teammates, stayed in the loop and still supported them as much as I could.”
Celek (6-0, 225) is listed as a first baseman and outfielder but essentially is a designated hitter. He had a good fall, showing some of the consistency that made him a local legend around the St. Andrews Parks and Playground ballfields in West Ashley.
“Normally guys like that, if they can stand the test of time, they get a chance,” Tanner said. “We sometimes live in a society where it’s instant gratification and in sports as well, and guys aren’t willing to grind it out and go deep in their careers before they get a chance to play.
“But he keeps plugging. He hasn’t had a lot of opportunities. He’s a guy that can swing the bat but doesn’t really have a position to play. He’s not a great runner. So it comes down to the opportunity to swing the bat, and I’m pretty encouraged that he’s aggressive up there.”
Celek played in all three games of the Florida series. His pinch-hit RBI single was part of the Gamecocks’ 9-3 victory Thursday night. Celek as the starting designated hitter had his first two-hit college game in Friday night’s 8-2 loss.
“Coach Tanner is somehow uncanny about when to play people and when not to play people,” Celek said. “But he told me Thursday, ‘I’m going to pinch-hit you here and then on Friday try and DH you in that game against the lefty (Brian Johnson).’ And then I got a couple pitches to hit and got a couple hits.”
A loyal Gamecock, Celek wears a shiny gold necklace with an interlocking “SC.”
He has earned it.“It’s looking up,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll keep battling. I’m not satisfied, but I’m going to stay ready for more opportunities to come.”
Maybe tonight.Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or Twitter @sapakoff