Razorbacks, Gamecocks have walked comparable paths

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, May 11, 2023
South Carolina head coach Mark Kingston talks with an umpire during an NCAA baseball game against Clemson on Sunday, March 5, 2023, in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina won 7-1. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
South Carolina head coach Mark Kingston talks with an umpire during an NCAA baseball game against Clemson on Sunday, March 5, 2023, in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina won 7-1. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

FAYETTEVILLE — If there’s an SEC team that can relate to the University of Arkansas’ injury woes, it is the South Carolina Gamecocks, who face the Razorbacks in a three-game series at Baum-Walker Stadium starting Friday.

The Gamecocks’ starting infield has been riddled by injuries, a situation made worse by two key pitchers being sidelined.

The upshot is No. 7 South Carolina (36-12, 14-9 SEC) has hit a skid at an inopportune time while dealing with the injuries to weekend starting pitcher Noah Hall (back), third baseman Talmadge LeCroy, shortstop Braylen Wimmer and second baseman Will McGillis. 

Mid-week starter Eli Jerzembeck, a freshman who has delivered key innings on weekends, had to leave Sunday’s 9-2 loss at Kentucky and now needs Tommy John surgery.

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The Gamecocks dropped an 8-5 decision to North Florida on Tuesday for their fourth consecutive loss and their sixth in eight games.

“I mean, look, it’s tough,” South Carolina Coach Mark Kingston said after the loss to the Ospreys, in which the Gamecocks left 16 runners on base. “It’s a challenge. You’re taking body blows right now. But it happens to everybody at some point. It just does.”

The Razorbacks have also been socked by injuries, but it’s their outfield that has been most impacted, with Jared Wegner (thumb) and Tavian Josenberger (hamstring) sidelined for a while. Season-ending injuries to pitchers Jaxon Wiggins, Koty Frank and Dylan Carter have forced Coach Dave Van Horn and pitching coach Matt Hobbs to dig deeper into the bullpen.

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Arkansas (36-12, 17-7 SEC) had a bad weekend at Georgia three weeks back with a disheartening sweep, and the Hogs dropped a pair of mid-week games at Missouri State and to Lipscomb in North Little Rock. Otherwise, they have endured the injury bug well and are riding a six-game SEC winning streak.

South Carolina was soaring after a weekend sweep of No. 3 Florida on April 20-22. That propelled the Gamecocks to No. 3 in the rankings, but they lost two of three at home to Auburn, then endured a sweep at Kentucky last weekend.

“We know the reasons why we’re struggling,” Kingston said. “We’re not at full strength. Until we are we just have to keep fighting. The guys are doing the best they can. We need to continue to support them. … We’re without some superstar players. And it’s not lack of effort, it’s not a lack of want to. Sometimes you just don’t play well enough. But the morale is good.”

Kentucky outscored South Carolina 30-12 last weekend, a similar spread to the 31-10 scoring margin Arkansas logged in sweeping struggling Mississippi State last weekend.

Both teams could be healthier for the weekend series.

Wegner (.351, 12 home runs, 44 RBI) had the pins pulled from his broken left thumb on Monday and whether he plays this weekend will be dictated by how well he can swing the bat. The Razorbacks have been slow-playing Josenberger’s return for fear of losing him for the postseason. Josenberger (.322, 7 home runs, 27 RBI) was on the active roster last weekend in Starkville. Miss., but was not needed for an emergency stint as a pinch hitter.

Second baseman Peyton Stovall (.253, 5 home runs, 31 RBI) sat out all last week with shoulder inflammation.

As for the Gamecocks, LeCroy (.310, 3 home runs, 30 RBI) returned Tuesday, and McGillis (.297, 10 home runs, 22 RBI), out since March 25 with a broken bone in his forearm, has a chance at returning this weekend. 

Wimmer (.299, 11 home runs, 35 RBI), who is dealing with a pulled hamstring, is doubtful for this weekend.

Kingston, whose last visit to Fayetteville came in an NCAA Super Regional loss to the Razorbacks in 2018, is confident his team can bounce back down the stretch.

“These kids are very resilient,” he said. “They don’t take this stuff as hard as coaches do probably do, fans, media. We all take that really, really hard. Kids, players have to be resilient and we have a resilient group.

“At their age, again, players don’t have the luxury of thinking too long about their failures. They need to learn from them and move on. Again, fans, media, coaches, we have nothing but time to think about it. Players just need to focus on the next game, the next practice. That’s where their mindset is.”


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