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Freshman pitcher Eddie Copper making early impact as midweek starter for Թϱ baseball

<p>Freshman pitcher Eddie Copper pitched the first four innings against Winthrop on Feb. 20, 2024, at Founders Park, allowing zero runs. The Gamecocks defeated Winthrop 12-2.</p>
Freshman pitcher Eddie Copper pitched the first four innings against Winthrop on Feb. 20, 2024, at Founders Park, allowing zero runs. The Gamecocks defeated Winthrop 12-2.

The Թϱ baseball team has had a dominant start to the 2024 season, sitting at 15-5 through its first 20 games.

Heading into the season, the Gamecocks anticipated a strong hitting staff, with sophomore outfielder Ethan Petry and junior catcher Cole Messina returning to the program as Preseason All-Americans. The team's pitching staff, however, was less established after losing five pitchers to the 2023 MLB Draft.

But Թϱ's pitchers have overcome uncertainty and contributed to the team's early success with a 2.9 earned run average over 150.2 innings pitched.

Freshman Eddie Copper is one pitcher who has stepped up and had an impressive start to his career, cementing himself as the team’s midweek starter. Head coach Mark Kingston said he has high hopes for Copper after his dominating performance against Gardner-Webb in late February.

He’s comfortably our Tuesday guy right now. Five innings on 61 pitches for a freshman is incredible,” head coach Mark Kingston said. “We’ll just continue to run him out there on that role and let him hopefully continue to get better and better.”

Copper, who hails from Ivyland, Pennsylvania, received interest from numerous colleges during his recruiting process. Teams such as South Carolina, Auburn, Miami, Wake Forest and Coastal Carolina — many of which are ranked in D1Baseball's top 25 rankings — gave him offers as early as his freshman year of high school.

Copper said he knew he wanted to play for Թϱ after visiting its campus during a baseball tournament in elementary school, so he made the decision to verbally commit when he got the offer as a freshman in 2020.

He attended Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, for his first three years of high school before transferring to P27 Academy in Lexington, Թϱ, for his senior season. Copper earned five wins and struck out 81 batters in 58.2 innings at the academy as he prepared for his first collegiate campaign.

But his first appearance as a Gamecock did not go according to plan. Copper came out of the bullpen to replace junior pitcher Eli Jones in Թϱ's opening game against Miami-Ohio in mid-February. He faced just three batters, hitting two of them with pitches and giving up a single to another, before being taken out of the game. He did not record a single out. 

Copper said his teammates were supportive despite his poor performance, and they helped motivate him for his next outing.

“I was super nervous going out to the mound. I just kind of let my emotions get the best of me,” Copper said. “A bunch of guys texted me after the game like, 'Hey, freshman jitters happens to everyone.' That kind of gave me my confidence back.”

Kingston designated Copper as Թϱ's starting pitcher against Winthrop in late February — his first start at the collegiate level.

In the game, Copper recovered from his subpar debut by allowing only one hit and no runs over four innings of work. He struck out two batters and issued three walks overall.

Copper built off of that strong start in another midweek matchup against Gardner-Webb on Feb. 27. He dominated the contest, pitching five innings and allowing only one walk. 

He allowed three hits and surrendered his first run of the season during the game, but his five strikeouts helped him earn the first win of his collegiate career.

“I felt really comfortable on the mound,” Copper said after the 7-1 win over the Bulldogs. “I had all my pitches today. Slider was working in the zone and out the zone. I was able to locate my fastball on both sides of the plate. My defense behind me was playing amazing.”

The freshman's dominant campaign continued in his next start against The Citadel in early March. He pitched through 4.1 innings and gave up five hits, but he only allowed one run and recorded a season-high six strikeouts. He also did not walk a single batter.

“To have a talented freshman that you can just put in there, and it serves two purposes,” Kingston said. “One, it helps you win the game, but two, it helps develop him as a future weekend starter. So, I’m just very pleased with his progress.”

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Copper’s most recent start came against Georgia State on March 12. He allowed three hits and two runs — the most he has given up in an outing all season — but remained on the mound for 4.2 innings and tied his season-high six strikeouts in a 4-3 Թϱ win. 

He has only given up four runs on 13 hits and has amassed 19 strikeouts over 18 innings this season.

He said he credits his success, as well as that of his teammates, to having a strong work ethic that has led to the Gamecocks' strong defense this season.

“We’re all super hard workers, so we knew (that) work was going to pay off. All of us have improved dramatically from the fall to the spring," Copper said. "A lot of it is to credit our defense behind us as well. They’ve been absolutely money. So, it just creates trust for us and them.”

Copper's performances have contributed to junior third baseman Talmadge LeCroy's confidence in the team's pitching staff this season, which is ranked second in the nation in earned run average.

“We definitely have the best pitching staff in the country, by far," LeCroy said.

Copper and the Gamecocks will look to continue their strong start to the season when they take on USC Upstate in Greenville, Թϱ, on Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.


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