Summerville’s Hopkins could start USC opener

COLUMBIA — South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook is still mulling over two of his outfield spots for Friday’s season opener, and freshman T.J. Hopkins from Summerville is a candidate for one of them.

“I think the world of T.J.,” Holbrook said Thursday, on the eve of the Gamecocks’ opener against Albany. “He’s going to play a lot for us this year. He may be in there (Friday), I haven’t made that decision yet. But you’ll certainly see him this weekend.”

Another Lowcountry product, freshman right-handed pitcher Harrison Smith of Mount Pleasant, will redshirt. “That was the toughest call, but I think that’s what’s best for his future,” Holbrook said of the Wando High School graduate, who went 6-3 with a 2.33 ERA as a senior.

Also not on USC’s spring roster is Weber Pike, a junior outfielder from Beaufort who’s appeared in just 17 games over the past two seasons. “He just wanted to play,” Holbrook said, “and sensed that he wasn’t going to play.”

Sophomore right-hander Clarke Schmidt will start the 4 p.m. opener Friday, with freshman righty Braden Webb slated to go Saturday, and junior righty Taylor Widener taking the hill Sunday for the Gamecocks.

— USC was picked to finish third in the SEC East in a preseason coaches’ poll. The Gamecocks received 54 points, fifth-most among all SEC teams.

Florida was picked to win the East and the overall title, with Vanderbilt following in the division. USC finished 24 points behind the Commodores and one point ahead of Kentucky, picked fourth in the East. Missouri, Georgia, and Tennessee rounded out the East. Texas A&M was picked to win the West, ahead of LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Alabama.

South Carolina went 32-25 last season, missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999. The website DIbaseball picked USC to be a No. 2 regional seed in its preseason NCAA projection.