GREENVILLE - Connor Bright's gray baseball pants were a mess late Saturday afternoon. A large dirt smudge. A bright green grass stain. A little tear.
There are so many things to like about this South Carolina Gamecocks baseball team, besides pitching: Steady bats, flexibility, still just enough Omaha experience and the kind of contagious confidence that seems to overwhelm Clemson.
Bright, South Carolina's junior right fielder, was all of that Saturday during a 10-2 victory over the No. 11 Tigers at Fluor Field.
"He's just aggressive," Clemson relief pitcher Zack Erwin said. "He's a smart hitter."
Consistent, too. No. 3 South Carolina is 9-0 and Bright has hit safely in each game. The Wando High School graduate had two singles and a sacrifice fly Saturday. He scored a run and made a diving catch.
Though often in the shadow of fellow juniors Grayson Greiner and Joey Pankake, Bright shines more each season. Such contributions up and down the lineup are what make South Carolina a leading national title contender.
"I call him our 'silent assassin,'" head coach Chad Holbrook said. "You don't hear boo from him; I don't think he talks to anybody. But he plays. He plays hard and he works his rear end off. He has the utmost respect of every player in our dugout because of his work ethic and his composure and the way he competes. He's one of our best players."
From .228 to .429
Just to clarify, Bright spoke Saturday.
He also confirmed that he has friends, beyond the dugout full that have been around long enough to see steady improvement.
Bright had 18 hits as a freshman in 2012, and hit .228.
He had 51 hits in 2013 (.288).
So far in 2014, Bright is batting .429 with 15 hits and 13 runs batted in - second on the team in all three categories.
Bright also made a fielding error and was caught stealing Saturday. But defense is coming a little easier for a converted infielder who was The Post and Courier's Lowcountry Player of the Year as a Wando shortstop.
"It's something you take day by day and try to get better at every day," Bright said. "I had never been an outfielder until last year and I just try to keep improving."
That's more than good enough for Holbrook.
"When we recruited him, I thought he had incredible hand-eye coordination. He's a scratch golfer, so he can hit a little white ball, and he's carried that over to this sport," Holbrook said of Bright, the son of former PGA Tour pro Mike Bright.
"I think what separates Connor is the intangibles: toughness, demeanor, poise, composure. All those things you try to talk about to play in our league and in a rivalry like this."
A smooth golfer-like approach keeps Bright from getting too excited about "the hit-streak thing."
"I just go out there, relax and do what I know how to do.," he said.
But it didn't keep Bright from enjoying the "awesome atmosphere" at Fluor Field for a rivalry game that eventually got out of hand, partly thanks to effort that made a mess of those baseball pants.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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