COLUMBIA — OK, it’s a little concerning that Wes Clarke, already tabbed midseason National Player of the Year by one publication, is scuffling. Tenth-ranked South Carolina needs that big bat in the middle of its lineup.
Then again, if Josiah Sightler is hitting grand slams one spot above Clarke, Andrew Eyster is collecting two hits one spot below and David Mendham is crunching opposite-field dingers right after Eyster, is it that big a deal?
The Gamecocks trampled Charleston Southern 9-0 on April 13 due to all of it, Sightler’s blast doing the most damage. The junior’s fifth homer of the year was a no-doubt tonk, leaving Founders Park and landing 407 feet from the plate onto Ray Tanner Way.
“Probably the longest ball we’ve hit all year. Really stretched the lead for us and allowed us to do a lot of things after that,” USC coach Mark Kingston said. “Great swing from a great kid.”
USC (22-9) got production from throughout the lineup while freshman Jack Mahoney (2-0) twirled a one-hitter through five innings, notching the Gamecocks’ third straight win and sending them into a short week. USC heads to Baton Rouge, La., for a three-game series with LSU beginning April 15, and with no midweek game next week, it begins another gauntlet of the schedule.
Following the series with the Tigers, USC hosts No. 1 Arkansas in a weekend series.
“Good all-around night. It’s the kind of game you want to have going into a big series on the road,” Kingston said. “We’re leaving first thing in the morning.”
The Buccaneers (10-14) were in their bullpen from the start, giving pitchers an inning each and preparing for their own crucial series this weekend. Big South-leading USC Upstate visits CSU for a series that has the chance to springboard the Bucs from their fifth-place perch.
They managed a scant four hits against the back end of a deep USC pitching staff and could take some solace in their situational pitching. Sightler took advantage of the first bases-loaded opportunity CSU gave the Gamecocks, but it was after Braylen Wimmer tapped into a forceout at home.
“Guys are going after me a little bit more aggressive just to avoid Wes Clarke,” Sightler said. “I’m definitely taking advantage of it.”
The Bucs faced bases loaded and no outs in each of the next two innings after the slam and gave up one run. Yet they only scratched five baserunners for the game as the Gamecocks gave four other pitchers an inning each after Mahoney.
Brady Allen was hit by a pitch to start the game and scored on a Clarke fielder’s choice, while Clarke scored on Eyster’s double. Mendham, after looking silly on two swinging strikes, tagged his homer off the end of his bat in the third inning before Sightler cleared the fence in the fourth.
The only other run was an Allen sacrifice fly, and Kingston used the later innings to get the bench some playing time. The Bucs got two of their hits in the ninth but stranded both to end it.
“Really impressed with our freshman pitchers, especially tonight, but all of our pitchers were really good,” Kingston said. “We’re playing really good baseball, and half the games we play, we start a freshman pitcher. That’s the kind of momentum you want to build on.”
Mahoney could return
Kingston said that Mahoney, after only throwing 67 pitches, could pitch at LSU if need be, probably during the Saturday game.
“If they need me this weekend, I’m ready to rock,” Mahoney said. “If need be, I’ll be out there.”
There are 11 Australians in Division I baseball. Two of them, USC’s George Callil and CSU’s Sam Trend-Beacom, were at Founders Park on April 13.
Each hails from Melbourne.