After down year, Gamecocks aim to show baseball fans who they ‘really are’

Jeff Blake/Jeff Blake Photo

After the 2022 college baseball season concluded, South Carolina veteran Braylen Wimmer sat at home, brimming with disappointment. He kept thinking about what could’ve been.

Very little went right for Wimmer and the Gamecocks last season. The injury-sapped team missed the postseason and suffered its first losing record (27-28, 13-17 SEC) since 1996. And Wimmer — considered USC’s top position-player prospect — slipped all the way to the 18th round of the 2022 MLB Draft.

The more Wimmer looked in the mirror this offseason, the less satisfied he became. He didn’t like the way he approached last season — too focused on the draft and not enough on winning. As he mulled his options, Wimmer gathered with two fellow Gamecock draftees, James Hicks (15th round) and Noah Hall (20th), and the three teammates decided they were going to come back for another season.

To do it right this time.

“We didn’t want to go out like that last year,” Wimmer said. “The draft didn’t go the way we wanted it to, so we were all feeling like that for sure. And then looking back at the team and seeing who was coming back and who’s coming in, it just felt like a good deal. So we all decided to do that.”

That feeling of unfinished business — of hunger — is pervasive in the USC dugout with the season set to start Feb. 17 against visiting UMass Lowell. Expectations are as high as ever for the program in Mark Kingston’s sixth year at the helm, with the Gamecocks earning a No. 23 preseason ranking from This year’s team is out to prove that last year’s losing season was an aberration.

“I just think there’s a little bit of a chip on the shoulder,” Kingston said in a Thursday news conference at Founders Park. “There’s a lot of guys that say, ‘Hey, we’re going to show you what we really are.’

“It was hard to get a glimpse of what we really were last year, for obvious reasons.”

Those “obvious reasons” mainly refer to a rash of injuries that decimated USC’s pitching staff early in the season. By the time the Gamecocks got to conference play, they were relying almost exclusively on four arms during the weekend: Hall, Will Sanders, Matthew Becker and Cade Austin.

All four pitchers are back, and they should have much more support around them. Kingston seemed downright giddy as he talked about the depth of his pitching staff this season, which is a key reason why USC is drawing preseason hype. Kingston listed six potential starters for the Gamecocks on the mound in Sanders, Hall, Hicks, Becker, Jack Mahoney and freshman Eli Jerzembeck — who is the crown jewel of USC’s recruiting class.

The son of a former major-leaguer, Jerzembeck touches 97 miles per hour with his fastball and could be used in a variety of ways, with Kingston describing him simply as “a weapon.” The 6-foot-6 Sanders is the team’s true ace and pitching staff leader, and as long as he stays healthy, he could go as high as the first round in this summer’s draft with his mid-90s fastball and pro-ready frame.

As for the lineup, Kingston and has staff tapped the transfer portal to add some left-handed thump to the middle of the batting order. Vanderbilt transfer Gavin Casas — the brother of Boston Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas — and Oral Roberts transfer Caleb Denny have both stood out in practice with their power and professional-quality at-bats, and Kingston said sophomore outfielder Carson Hornung has made a noticeable jump as well.

Between transfers and freshmen a large chunk of the roster is new, but these Gamecocks so far have been united by one predominant feeling:


“Every single one of us on this team is hungry,” Sanders said. “Even the people that weren’t on the team last year still were affected by how we lost games last year and watching it on TV. You didn’t have to be on the team last year to really feel for us. And that’s never going to happen again. We push ourselves, and we know that’s not acceptable.

“It all started in the summer with us being hungry and us wanting to be better for the city, for the team, for the school.”

USC Baseball 2023 schedule

Feb. 17-19: vs. UMass Lowell

Feb. 21: vs. Winthrop

Feb. 22: vs. Queens

Feb. 24-26: vs. Penn

Feb. 28: vs. North Carolina A&T

March 3-5: vs. Clemson

March 7: vs. The Citadel

March 8: at USC Upstate

March 10-12: vs. Bethune-Cookman

March 14: vs. Presbyterian

March 17-19: at Georgia

March 21: at Charlotte

March 24-26: vs. Missouri

March 28: at The Citadel

March 30-April 1: at Mississippi State

April 4: vs. North Carolina (Charlotte)

April 6-8: vs. LSU

April 11: USC Upstate

April 14-16: at Vanderbilt

April 18: Charleston Southern

April 20-22: vs. Florida

April 28-30: vs. Auburn

May 3: at Winthrop

May 5-7: at Kentucky

May 9: vs. North Florida

May 12-14: at Arkansas

May 16: vs. Charlotte

May 18-20: vs. Tennessee