Mark Kingston will be back as South Carolina baseball coach

·6 min read
Jeff Blake/Jeff Blake Photo

South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston isn’t going anywhere, The State confirms.

D1Baseball managing editor Kendall Rogers, citing sources, first reported the news Friday night that Kingston would be back in Columbia in 2023 for a sixth season with the Gamecocks.

South Carolina has made the NCAA tournament twice during Kingston’s tenure and just finished with their first losing season since 1996, prompting chatter of whether or not USC administrators would make a coaching change.

Kingston received a contract extension after last season.

“Kingston has three years left on his contract, which runs through the 2025 season. In addition to the significant injury issues this season, #Gamecocks would’ve owed Kingston a lot of money for a buyout this soon,” Rogers posted to Twitter.

Per Kingston’s contract, the Gamecocks would owe him a $2.2 million buyout if they chose to dismiss him before June 30. Kingston makes roughly $600,000 per season.

South Carolina already paid former coaches Will Muschamp and Frank Martin almost $16 million combined in buyout money.

The Gamecocks (27-28, 13-17 SEC) failed to reach the NCAA tournament in Kingston’s fifth year at the helm. Kingston has a 138–109 record at USC. The losing season in 2022 was the team’s first since 1996 — that was June Raines’ final year as head coach and just before current athletic director Ray Tanner took over the program.

At the time of Kingston’s contract extension after the 2021 season, Tanner — who won two College World Series titles as USC’s coach — said that Kingston had built “a successful program” but needed to take the next step and reach the postseason with more regularity.

“Ideally, you want to be in the postseason, be playing at home at the end of the year,” Tanner said. “And we had a good talk about that. That’s what this program is accustomed to over the years, and we’d like to have that on a regular basis.”

Frustrating season, with ‘context’

USC lost to Florida 2-1 on Tuesday at the SEC tournament, capping a frustrating season that was defined by injuries and inconsistency.

Injuries on the pitching staff were especially crippling. Weekend starters Julian Bosnic and James Hicks were both lost for the year early in the season due to elbow injuries, and the Gamecocks also lost a significant bullpen piece in right-hander Wesley Sweatt, among other arms.

“We’re all disappointed,” Kingston said in Hoover after the extra-inning loss to Florida. “But the word ‘context’ is what matters most. When you factor in you had 10 pitchers throughout the course of the season that pitched either very, very little or not at all, and what kind of impact they would have on our won-loss record.

“... It handcuffed us — it just did. And there are days I look up and say, ‘Man, how did we win that many?’ And there are days that you look up and you say, ‘Man, if we had this guy or that guy, just two or three of the 10, it’s a completely different season. ‘ ”

That answer could sound like an excuse to some, but there’s no question the Gamecocks’ pitching staff was sapped by injuries, leaving the team’s bullpen especially thin and prone to late-game meltdowns. But just how different could’ve USC’s season been had the pitching staff been healthy, well-stocked and reliable?

The Gamecocks won four of their 10 SEC weekend series this season. However, South Carolina was in position to win four more of those series before their bullpen blew late leads.

There were five games in particular that could’ve changed USC’s season:

  • April 2, Game 2 at Missouri: Gamecocks led Missouri 5-2 before the Tigers scored six runs in the final two innings against four different relievers. USC won Game 1.

  • April 8, Game 1 vs. Georgia: Gamecocks led Georgia for eight innings before the Bulldogs scored two runs in the ninth against Cade Austin. USC won Game 2.

  • April 22, Game 1 at Auburn: Gamecocks tied with Auburn before the Tigers scored three runs in the seventh and eighth against C.J. Weins and John Gilreath.

  • April 23, Game 2 at Auburn: Gamecocks led Auburn 6-3 before the Tigers scored five runs in the seventh and eighth against Noah Hall and Matthew Becker.

  • May 7, Game 2 at Texas A&M: Gamecocks led Texas A&M 10-6 in the top of the eighth. Aggies won 13-12, rallying against Austin and Becker. USC won Game 3.

Had USC held on to win those fives games, the Gamecocks would have clinched each of those series — giving them eight SEC series wins — and their record would’ve swelled from 27-28 (13-17) to 32-23 (18-12). The 18-12 mark in the SEC would’ve tied with the NCAA regional-bound Arkansas Razorbacks for the third-best SEC record, and the 32-23 overall record isn’t far off from last year’s Gamecocks team (34-23, 16-14) that hosted a regional in Columbia as a No. 2 seed.

Of course, having a healthy pitching staff does not guarantee that USC would have held on to all of those leads, but it could’ve swung at least a couple of those losses in the other direction. Even more, the Gamecocks might not have lost RPI-sinking midweek games to the likes of Presbyterian, The Citadel and USC Upstate if they weren’t forced to save all of their best arms for the weekend.

USC had its fair share of offensive struggles throughout the season, too, ranking last in the SEC in team batting average (.266), slugging percentage (.413) and second-to-last in runs scored (313). Part of those struggles were due to a young lineup that at times started four freshmen.

The numbers, however, bear out just how thin USC’s pitching staff was this season.

During SEC play, the Gamecocks essentially leaned on just four pitchers: sophomore Will Sanders and junior Noah Hall in the rotation, and freshmen Cade Austin and Matthew Becker out of the bullpen. Those four pitchers alone combined to throw 70% of the team’s 259.1 innings in conference play. When those pitchers weren’t getting outs, USC wasn’t winning games, especially with an offense that also ranked near the bottom of the SEC in most statistical categories.

For Kingston and his staff, the context of those injuries is enough to put USC’s down year in perspective.

— The State’s Dwayne McLemore contributed

Mark Kingston at South Carolina

Final record and postseason finish

2018: 37-26 (lost on the road in NCAA super regional)

2019: 28-28 (missed postseason)

2020: 12-4 (COVID canceled season)

2021: 34-23 (lost in NCAA regional USC hosted as a 2 seed)

2022: 27-28 (missed postseason)

Total record: 138–109 (.559)

Mark Kingston salary, contract buyout

Kingston makes roughly $600,000 per season at South Carolina.

$2.2 million if dismissed before June 30, 2022;

$1.4 million if dismissed between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023;

$800,000 if dismissed between July 1, 2023 and June 30, 2024;

$400,000 if dismissed between July 1, 2024 and June 30, 2025.