COLUMBIA, S.C. — For South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston, the anticipation ahead of opening day is no different than when he was at Illinois State or South Florida.
While there have been a few changes along the way, like bigger ballparks and an increased media presence, it’s business as usual for the Gamecocks first-year coach.
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“I think, obviously, if you care very much about what you’re doing, no matter what it is, as you start to get to opening night, I don’t know that nerves are the right word, but the anticipation is pretty great right now,” Kingston said. “I think, for myself, for our coaching staff, for our players, we’re ready to go, however you want to define that, we’re very anxious and ready to go.”
Junior right-handed pitcher Adam Hill, who was the Sunday starter last season, will get the nod when South Carolina opens against VMI on Friday at 4 p.m.
Kingston plans to use at least five other pitchers during the opening weekend, with another four or five options, in case more arms are needed to get outs against the Keydets.
“We have, obviously, our top three starters and they’ll be on pitch counts, but every decision we make will have a short-term component to it, but also a long-term,” Kingston said. “In the short-term, you want to win the game. Long-term, you have to manage guys’ pitch counts earlier in the season. We want to get a look at pitchers, to see where they’re going to fit.
“We have general ideas at this point on which pitchers we think can help us win, but you just never know until the lights turn on.”
A pair of righties will round out the weekend rotation: Cody Morris on Saturday and Ridge Chapman on Sunday.
“He’s our most experienced returning pitcher, outside of Hill, so we decided to go with him,” Kingston said of Morris. “He has Saturday-type-stuff. It’s just up to him now to show he can be a polished pitcher, get outs and get us deeper into games.”
Chapman got the edge over freshman right-hander Ridge Chapman.
“They’re both talented enough to get the ball on Sunday,” Kingston said. “Just gave the edge to the veteran, the older guy at this point, let the freshman kind of sit back and watch the flow of the game here at Founders Park and he’ll probably pitch in relief at some point this weekend, to get his feet wet and there’s a good chance he’ll get his feet wet as a starter on Tuesday or Wednesday.”
Eddy Demurias, a junior transfer from Miami Dade College, is set to open the season as the Gamecocks closer.
Freshman lefty John Gilreath, like Logan Chapman, could work in relief this weekend, though both are candidates for mid-week starts against North Florida and Winthrop.
Freshman right-hander Carmen Mlodzinski (knee) “may or may not be available” to pitch this weekend.
South Carolina’s lineup, which is led by outfielders Carlos Cortes, T.J. Hopkins and Jacob Olson, will have a veteran feel to it on Friday.
“I think you’ll see more than nine guys start this weekend,” Kingston said. “A lot of it, on opening night, we’re facing a really talented starter on opening night, so that may play into some of the guys we decide to play on opening night in this ballpark.
“I think there’s a tendency for the young guys, maybe, to need to see what this thing looks like and get a flow for playing in Founders Park, so you might see a little bit more of a veteran lineup [Friday] night and then we’ll have the ability to evaluate as we go.
“Want to get all of our guys that have earn playing time over the last seven months in the games as much as we can, but the scores in the games will dictate a lot of that.”
SEC Network Plus will carry the game on Friday. First-pitch on Saturday is set for noon. The Sunday game starts at 1.