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Analysis: Թϱ baseball picks up midweek victories over Winthrop, Queens

<p>Fifth-year infielder Parker Noland runs to home base and scores against Queens on Feb. 21, 2024. Noland had two runs for the Gamecocks during its 13-3 victory over the Lions at Founders Park.</p>
Fifth-year infielder Parker Noland runs to home base and scores against Queens on Feb. 21, 2024. Noland had two runs for the Gamecocks during its 13-3 victory over the Lions at Founders Park.

The No. 21 Թϱ baseball team finished its first midweek home stand of the 2024 season with two victories over Winthrop and Queens.

The Gamecocks picked up a 12-2 win on Tuesday against Winthrop in a game that saw the team showcase its prowess on both sides of the ball.

Թϱ mustered 10 hits against the Eagles, with most of its run-scoring production coming in the early innings of the game. The Gamecocks scored two runs in the second inning and three more in the third, building its lead to 5-0 by the end of the third frame.

Freshman pitcher Eddie Copper started on the mound for Թϱ and stifled Winthrop's offense over the four innings he pitched.

But in the top of the fifth, the Eagles took advantage of his absence, loading the bases and scoring two runs on a double made by freshman infielder Jaylen Hernandez.

The Gamecocks would provide an immediate answer, though, as junior infielder Talmadge LeCroy launched a home run into left field to lead off the bottom of the fifth. Թϱ would score two more runs in that inning and four over the game's final two frames to clinch the seven-inning, run-rule win.

On Wednesday, Թϱ secured a 13-3 win over Queens in another run-rule victory that lasted eight innings.

Junior pitcher Matthew Becker made his season debut on the mound against the Royals since recovering from a minor injury to his back. In his two innings of work, Becker gave up two hits and recorded five strikeouts to just one walk.

“I felt pretty good,” Becker said. “(I) felt really normal — back to normal for the first time in a while.”

The Gamecocks’ offense started out hot in the first inning after junior catcher Cole Messina hit a three-run homer, his first of the season.

He wouldn't be the only Թϱ player to go deep in the contest, as sophomore outfielder Ethan Petry hit his third home run of the season in the fifth to give the Gamecocks an eight-run advantage.

Թϱ’s offense showed a patient approach at the plate, as it totaled 15 walks to just 10 strikeouts. The Gamecocks' batters have now been walked 59 times so far this season.

Թϱ will head into its second weekend series of the season with a few takeaways from its two most recent wins.

Copper recovers from opening day jitters with impressive performance

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Copper said he let his emotions get the best of him in his debut with Թϱ last Friday, where he faced three batters without recording a single out before exiting the game.

The freshman was given an opportunity on Tuesday to start his first collegiate game for the Gamecocks, and he showed flashes of potential indicating that he could be a useful option for the team moving forward.

Copper allowed just one hit and zero runs over the four innings he pitched, striking out two batters in the process.

He struggled with control at times, as he issued three walks overall. But each of those walks happened on full counts, demonstrating his ability to fight batters deep into counts.

Copper also escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the second inning — after the Eagles got three runners on base via two walks and a throwing error — by forcing Winthrop graduate student infielder Colin Lombardo to fly out.

"It was great to see him bounce back. The reason we wanted to throw him back out there was because we knew that he was capable of this," head coach Mark Kingston said. "We wanted to show confidence in him and belief in him, and it was great to see him go four innings, one hit and no earned runs. (He) really set the tone for us tonight."

Gamecocks attack opponents early

Tuesday's matchup illustrated a trend Թϱ has shown throughout its first games of the young season.

The Gamecocks jumped out to early leads in all three of its matchups against Miami-Ohio last weekend. And most of that production came in just one inning. Թϱ had a five-run second inning against the RedHawks on Friday, and the team jumped out to a 7-0 advantage after one frame in the series finale on Sunday.

While the Gamecocks' early run production was split over two innings on Tuesday, it got all the runs it needed to extend its record to 4-0.

"Statistics will tell you the team that scores first generally wins most games in our sport, so it's really important for us to get out and try to give our pitcher a little bit of cushion so that they can relax and just execute," Kingston said. "We've been doing that, and I hope that continues."

Pitching staff continues to shine

Becker's return provides Թϱ with a veteran option in the rotation. He has made 17 starts and 23 relief appearances in his college career, making him one of the more experienced options on a pitching staff filled with new faces.

"He looked a little rusty early on," Kingston said. "But I thought once he settled in, he looked really good."

Becker's standout pitching against Queens was followed by stellar performances from sophomore Connor McCreery and freshmen Tyler Pitzer and Parker Marlatt. The trio combined to give up just four hits and one run and struck out six batters over three innings of work.

“Real happy with how they're performing,” Kingston said about the bullpen. “17 strikeouts and two walks, that’s about as good as you could ask for.”

What's next?

Թϱ will continue its home stand with a three-game series against Belmont on Friday. Game one of the series will start at 4 p.m., and all three games will be broadcast on SEC Network+.


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