The re-routed road to Omaha always has bumps along the way, and sometimes requires rock salt.
What we’ve learned about college baseball in South Carolina one February week into the season:
Gamecocks right-hander Wil Crowe is a 2016 first-round draft pick waiting to happen. What’s not to like about the sophomore from Pigeon Forge High School in Tennessee? He has a big-league body (6-2, 240), beat the College of Charleston with 92 mph fastballs and sharp breaking stuff and has embraced a new leadership role. Crowe simply refused to lose Game 2 of a three-game series after the Cougars took the season opener in Columbia.
Chilly Charleston has become the South’s warm-weather baseball oasis. Sure, your prized outdoor plants are inside. But the Virginia-Marist series originally set for Charlottesville is now spread out over three Lowcountry ballparks: Bishop England on Friday (2 p.m.), Saturday at Patriots Point (5 p.m.) and Sunday at Riley Park (11 a.m.). The No. 4 Cavaliers will play LaSalle on Saturday (11 a.m.) at CSU. Last year, the season-opening College of Charleston-North Carolina series was moved to Mount Pleasant because of snow in Chapel Hill.
A brighter Citadel future is at the top of the order. The freshman trio of center fielder Shy Phillips (Hartsville), second baseman Phillip Watcher (Sumter) and first baseman Drew Ellis (Blythewood) is off to a good start. So are the Bulldogs, 3-1 going into a weekend series against the College of Charleston.
Winning the 2014 Gainesville Regional and dropping two 1-0 games to Texas Tech in the Lubbock Super Regional gave the College of Charleston an attitude — a good one. The confident Cougars, led by right-hander Taylor Clarke, handed South Carolina its first Opening Day loss since 1998 and might have won the series with a healthy Bailey Ober on the mound.
Clemson promptly dropped out of Baseball America’s Top 25 with some of the same problems that hurt the Tigers when they squeezed into the NCAA Tournament in 2014: 5 runs and 24 runners left on base while going 1-2 against West Virginia.
But Clemson’s Matthew Crownover (no earned runs in six innings against West Virginia) gives Jack Leggett a reliable Friday night starter, and the Tigers’ pitching depth seems improved.
With table-setters like sophomore second baseman Nate Blanchard and freshman left fielder Chase Hannifin, Charleston Southern has a chance to keep Big South pitchers busy.
Quote of the week, from Clemson Associate Athletic Director Kyle Young: “Our field is currently frozen and unsafe for play.”
But too bad Clemson didn’t move its weekend series with Maine to Charleston instead of Augusta. We would have had eight teams in town and perhaps the Relatively Warm Weather Non-Invitational, a potential February staple.
Coastal Carolina is in a slump. The Chanticleers were picked to finish third in the Big South, are off to a 2-2 start and were absent from the NCAA Tournament last year. Expectations are always high in Conway, home of 11 NCAA Tournament appearances in the 13 seasons from 2001 to 2013.
Jonathan Sabo, a two-time Post and Courier Lowcountry Player of the Year while at West Ashley High School, has taken to the Doomsday Corner home field at USC Lancaster. Sabo as a freshman starts at shortstop for the Lancers and is their No. 4 starting pitcher. He currently is committed to play at The Citadel.
Not only is Virginia picked to win the ACC after a 3-2 loss to Vanderbilt in Game 3 of the 2014 College World Series finals, the Cavaliers are stocked with big-league pitching prospects Nathan Kirby, Brandon Waddell and Josh Sborz — all juniors — and sophomore Connor Jones.
Furman freshman center fielder Sky Overton has five stolen bases in five attempts, including four at South Carolina on Tuesday.
The Schmidt brothers are on a collision course. Clemson junior pitcher Clate Schmidt (1-0 against South Carolina) struck out the West Virginia side in his only inning of work last weekend. South Carolina freshman pitcher Clarke Schmidt got the win in relief against Tuesday against Furman.
College of Charleston facility improvements can’t happen soon enough.
Re: Wil Crowe and 2016 MLB draft. Six former Gamecocks pitchers have been selected in the first round: Matt Campbell (2004), Brian Williams (1990), West Ashley’s Mike Cook (1985), Joe Kucharski (1982), Randy Martz (1977) and Earl Bass 1975). Williams, Cook and Martz reached the majors.
Please, no complaining about the weather — even on the frozen fields of South Carolina — with the Marist Red Foxes around. The Friday night forecast for Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is five below zero.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff