COLUMBIA — Superstition wins ballgames. Ask any player. If they believe a cap turned a certain way or not washing socks is helping them win, then it is.
It’s no surprise that South Carolina, with its postseason hopes in a shallow grave two weeks ago following a loss to Presbyterian, is partially crediting a lucky piece for its sudden resurgence.
The program that rallied during past seasons behind the Avatar Spirit Stick, a fish called Reptar and Byron the Bunny (#FearTheEars) has a new toy.
Or just a piece of vital equipment that Mark Kingston installed in fall practice.
“Taking it on the road to Vanderbilt, once again we scored a ton of runs there. Many more than you’re probably used to scoring on the road at Vanderbilt, with the quality of pitching a school like that has,” Kingston said. “It sure hasn’t hurt.”
They’re pitching machines, two contraptions with steel struts and wheels that fling high-speed horsehide. They can fit in the bus luggage carriers and were sorely missed in the final two shutout losses at Arkansas, which had Kingston making sure they were on the bus to Vandy.
The Gamecocks won the series and scored 18 runs in the two wins. “If your swing’s long, you’re not going to hit that machine,” Jacob Olson explained. “It teaches you to stay short and I think that’s good for us.”
Sure, that’s the technical side.
The dirty-sock side?
Meet Hack Attack Jack & Mack, the names of the two machines courtesy of the new Twitter account, @USCMachines. Its 172 followers Thursday afternoon should drastically rise before Friday’s series opener hosting No. 3 Ole Miss.
“Feeding the Gamecocks offensive power one pitch at a time #machinemojo” reads the account’s description. The first Tweet read, “Loved our first road trip to the music city. Complete with two comebacks full of #machinemojo.”
“That’s been a really big key in our at-bats, and just our overall hitting from an offensive standpoint. (Kingston) was right when he said our bats got slow, and our reactions, and all that stuff,” T.J. Hopkins said. “I really do believe in that. I love hitting off the machine and I wish I would have learned that two years ago.”
Hopkins joked that it was probably Olson, Twitter-less in this day and age, who created the account. He also said he was kidding Kingston the other day that he’d rather skip batting practice and stick with the machine before games.
All are crediting having the machines there every day, able to work them like they did in the preseason, as a big reason why they’re winning now. Of course they’re healthier, returning Hopkins to the everyday lineup; and after that PC loss that dropped them to 20-17, Kingston’s locker-room speech wasn’t pleasant.
But even Kingston wears a baby-blue wristband that he hasn’t removed for over 15 months, because “it’s been a pretty good year, so I’m not taking it off until I have to.”
The Gamecocks once named a batting dummy “Steve” and carried him with them everywhere.
Jack & Mack help keep the Gamecocks’ swings contained. They resemble live pitching much more than the standard BP fare. That’s all.
Or maybe USC is winning because Jack & Mack came along to Vanderbilt, enabling them to extend the LSU series sweep the week before. The Gamecocks are winning, so logic and belief stand on equal ground.