State talent pool flips the script on USC

Ace pitcher Michael Roth was among the South Carolinians at the forefront of the Gamecocks’ three straight appearances in the College World Series finals from 2010-2012. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik/File)

There is plenty of blame to go around when the University of South Carolina baseball team falls from a No. 6 national ranking in mid-March to No. 74 on the latest Ratings Percentage Index lists.

This is, after all, the program that won the College World Series in 2010 and 2011 and almost again in 2012. The Gamecocks at 189-39 had the SEC’s best winning percentage (.829) from 2009-2014.

They probably won’t make the NCAA Tournament this year and there is no baseball NIT.

Among other things, pitcher Wil Crowe, the top professional prospect on the team, is injured. Veteran players have batting averages hovering near nothing. Third-year head coach Chad Holbrook, still learning how to run a baseball team, juggles lineups and pitching rotations on the way out of bed, often necessarily.

What really sticks out is how in-state talent, formerly the hallmark of the program, has turned on the Gamecocks. Overachievers such as Michael Roth (Greer) and Scott Wingo (Mauldin) led South Carolina in Omaha and handed the reins to immediate impact newcomers such as Grayson Greiner (Blythewood) and Joey Pankake (Easley).

But this year the freshman and sophomore classes of South Carolinians have combined to be only slightly productive. All while South Carolina has lost to six different South Carolina schools (College of Charleston, Clemson, Winthrop, Coastal Carolina, Presbyterian, Furman) for the first time since 1947.

The trouble started early.

The Gamecocks lost a season opener for the first time since 1998, falling to the College of Charleston, 6-3. Sophomore outfielder Bradley Jones (Travelers Rest High School) and freshman outfielder Ryan Brown (Lexington High School) had two hits apiece and junior third baseman Carl Wise (Lexington’s White Knoll High School) knocked in two runs.

Winthrop started South Carolina’s run of mid-week bad luck March 17 with a 7-5 victory. Eagles sophomore outfielder Babe Thomas (Wando High School) had an RBI single in the fifth inning and knocked in two more runs in the 11th.

Connor Owings, a junior second baseman from Gilbert High School, delivered a solo home run early and a walk-off single in the 11th inning of Coastal Carolina’s 9-8 victory in Conway on March 24.

Sophomore right-hander Ethan Wortkoetter (Greer High School) got the win in relief when Presbyterian stunned the Gamecocks, 7-4 in 10 innings, on April 14.

Sophomore right-hander Matthew Quarles (Greenwood’s Emerald High) pitched seven innings in Furman’s 2-1 upset in Greenville on April 21.

Not saying these guys would have made a difference playing for South Carolina this year. Or that all of them would have made the team.

Just that the most prestigious program in South Carolina should do a better job finding and signing the Palmetto State’s best players.

Here is total 2015 production from the Gamecocks’ current freshman class of South Carolinians:

Madison Stokes, infielder (A.C. Flora High School in Columbia): .184 batting average.

Clark Scolamiero, outfielder (Greenville High School): .111 batting average.

Matt Williams, infielder (Belton-Honea Path High School): 1 hit in 3 at-bats.

Major League drafts have taken a toll on recent signees, including Tampa Bay Rays 2013 first-round pick Nick Ciuffo, a Lexington High School catcher who grew up in Mount Pleasant. But all good programs have draft issues.

As is, the best in-state players in the sophomore class have been outfielder Gene Cone (Spring Valley High School in Columbia), infielder Jordan Gore (Conway High School) and pitchers Taylor Widener (South Aiken High School) and Josh Reagan (Lexington High School).

All have been helpful at times. Cone is batting .259 with 11 stolen bases, Gore is batting .253, Widener has nine saves (1-3, 3.43 ERA) and former weekend starter Reagan is 1-2 with a 4.43 ERA.

But while improvement seems likely for these freshmen and sophomores, there isn’t a 2015 All-SEC candidate in the bunch (star first baseman Kyle Martin of Greenville is a junior).

These are tough lessons for Gamecocks coaches and fans.

Holbrook has been one of the top recruiters in the nation. But sometimes the best college-bound high school player in South Carolina turns out to be more of a project than an impact contributor.

A state with a great run of college-bound talent can have an off-year or two every now and then.

There is still plenty of home-grown potential out there in the high school ranks. It’s up to the South Carolina coaching staff to find quick solutions in this state or elsewhere.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff