South Carolina Baseball: NCAA Tournament preview

South Carolina baseball will begin Regional play on Friday in Raleigh against the James Madison Dukes.
South Carolina baseball star Ethan Petry
South Carolina baseball star Ethan Petry / Gary Cosby Jr.-Tuscaloosa News / USA

South Carolina baseball will begin Regional play on Friday as they take on the James Madison Dukes in Raleigh. The game is set for 2:00 PM ET and will be streamed on ESPN+.

The game will mark the beginning of another NCAA Tournament for the Gamecocks, the second year in a row that they will play in the same Regional as the NC State Wolfpack. Last year, USC hosted the 'Pack in Columbia, but this year, Carolina is making the return trip.

In the 2-seed vs. 3-seed matchup, head coach Mark Kingston and pitching coach Matt Williams have elected to send Eli Jones to the mound as the starter, while Dukes head coach Marlin Ikenberry will throw Todd Mozoki.

The Gamecock offense should have plenty of chances to score runs against Mozoki as the junior right-hander has posted an ERA near 7.00 this season. However, the Dukes have a solid offense that can score runs, too. They are led by explosive athlete Fenwick Trimble.

Trimble is one of the best players in the Regional, but he is not the only big-time offensive player in the JMU lineup. Four other primary starters have OPS numbers above .900, and there are several legitimate threats on the basepaths.

Holding back the James Madison offense will be tough for Carolina, but even past Mozoki, the Dukes' pitching staff will be vulnerable during the Regional. No starting pitcher has been very good this season for JMU, and just two relievers (Joe Vogatsky and Hunter Entsminger) have more than 10 appearances have an ERA under 5.00 this year.

Cole Messina will look to continue his torrid hot streak against the less-than-stellar pitching of the Dukes. The entire South Carolina baseball offense was much better in the SEC Tournament last week, though, as the Gamecocks crossed home plate 53 times in 5 games in Hoover. If they can continue to hit the ball well, this weekend could be a good one for Carolina.

The winner of this first game will play the winner of NC State-Bryant, while the loser will play the loser of that game. Both the first game of the winners' bracket and the first game of the losers' bracket will take place on Saturday.

If Bryant were to be USC's next opponent, the Gamecocks have a tremendous talent advantage against a team that lost 15 games away from home this season, despite their weak schedule.

If South Carolina baseball were to play against NC State next, the matchup would be interesting. The Wolfpack are a good team, but they ranked in the bottom half of the ACC this season in most offensive stats, most pitching stats, and fielding percentage. Still, Elliott Avent's squad has found a way to win 11 of their last 15 games to enter the postseason feeling good about their chances.

It was announced on Thursday that 1B/3B Gavin Casas officially will miss the rest of the season. As expected, Casas' broken hand requires surgery, and the big lefty will resume baseball activities with a professional organization after this summer's MLB Draft. His absence means that Ethan Petry and Talmadge LeCroy likely will get the majority of the innings at 1B and 3B, respectively, while Tyler Causey could be in line for some spot duty at either spot.

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