COLUMBIA — Mark Kingston bounced into the press room with a smile. A new year and new beginnings could be celebrated with a new experience.
That would be winning his season-opener, which he had not done in his first two years. And was something that was very much desired entering a crucial third season.
“Sure beats the alternative. Feel much better than we did the first two years on Opening Night,” South Carolina’s coach said after a 10-0 blistering of Holy Cross on Friday. “We pitched and played really good defense … you can win a lot of games when you do that.”
The Gamecocks (1-0) belted the Crusaders with a six-run first inning where 11 batters went to the plate and seven effortless frames from Carmen Mlodzinski. Staked to a massive lead, Mlodzinski found it easy to get back to his new-look relaxed self.
“When your offense puts up 10 for you, it’s a little easier to pitch,” said Mlodzinski, who picked up his first win since June 2018. “I appreciate those guys doing that for me.”
USC jumped all over Crusaders starter Garret Keough in the first, two one-out walks turning into Bryant Bowen’s three-run moonshot into the left-center tunnel. The Gamecocks tacked on three more runs and another in the second before Keough could find a third out.
With Mlodzinski cruising, USC took turns trying to scorch the remaining Holy Cross pitchers. Plenty reached (the Gamecocks had a mere six hits but 15 got on base, helped by four Crusader errors) but none scored until the sixth, when Andrew Eyster “drove” in another run with a bases-loaded walk and Braylen Wimmer slashed a two-run single to right.
When he was supposed to be tiring, Mlodzinski posted innings of six and five pitches before departing in the seventh inning, after the Gamecocks turned their second double play. Graham Lawson and Trey Tujetsch finished.
A lot of fun was there to be had, and it was experienced for the first time in three years.
“I think they understand how talented they are. They don’t stress out,” Bowen said. “It’s a game that’s supposed to be fun, and I think that’s how we felt.”
The Gamecocks host the Crusaders at 2 p.m. Saturday in the second game of the series. Brett Kerry is slated to start.