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Baseball Preview: No. 22 Missouri visits No. 11 South Carolina

Two undefeated SEC teams square off in Columbia East this weekend

via Twitter / @GamecockBaseball

Perhaps the only team that has been more of a surprise this season than Missouri is South Carolina. The Gamecocks are off to a 20-2 start this year and swept their first SEC series of the year against Georgia before dropping a midweek game against 9-11 Charlotte on Tuesday. No matter, the Gamecocks are a formidable foe, and the Tigers will face a tough task each night in Columbia East this weekend.

The Gamecocks have used an explosive offense to help power their hot start in 2023 and leading the way has been freshman RF Ethan Petry. A top recruit in the 2022 class, Petry has made the adjustment to SEC baseball seamlessly.

With a .434/.466/.829 slash line, a 183 wRC+ and 9 HR, Petry has made opposing pitchers' lives hell this year. He was named SEC Freshman of the Week last week after going 5-12 against the Bulldogs.

While Petry is thriving as a freshman, SC veteran SS Braylen Wimmer has taken a major leap this season. After an wRC+ of 105 and 102 the last two seasons, Wimmer has taken his game to another level in 2023 and currently has a 165 wRC+.

The senior is slashing .363/.480/.675 and has 6 HR so far this year. A credit to this spike in numbers has to be a more mature approach at the plate from Wimmer. His strikeout rate is a career-low and his walk rate is a career-high. From 2022 to 2023, Wimmer’s K-BB rate has decreased by almost three times.

Wimmer is also an incredibly dynamic base runner. After stealing 13 bags on 14 attempts last season, the Oklahoma native has stolen another 13 so far this year and is yet to be caught stealing. You can count on him testing Dylan Leach’s arm this weekend when he gets on base.

South Carolina’s best power threat is 1B Gavin Casas. A transfer from Vanderbilt, Casas is the younger brother Red Sox rookie 1B and top prospect Triston Casas.

After playing sparingly for Tim Corbin in the first two years of his collegiate career, Casas transferred to South Carolina, and he has been nothing short of excellent. A .319/.480/.861 slash line is fantastic, but he’s also hit 12 HR this season, which is second amongst all players in the country. Casas doesn’t just hit for power, however, he can also draw walks. With a 19.4% BB rate, Casas makes pitchers work hard even when’s not launching balls over the fence.

Currently, he leads the Gamecocks in wRC+ at 186.

The final hitter I want to spotlight on the Gamecocks is sophomore C Cole Messina. Last year, Messina made just 35 plate appearances and was less than stellar. He slashed .133/.257/.133 and had a 22 wRC+, but 2023 has been a completely different story for Messina.

This year the South Carolina native is slashing .345/.472/.738 and has a 172 wRC+. He’s also hit 9 HR and made himself comfortable in the cleanup spot in SC’s lineup. He hits behind Casas and before Petry to form a formidable middle of the order that Missouri pitching will have to tread carefully through this weekend.

On Friday night, the Gamecocks will turn to preseason All-American Will Sanders on the mound. A junior, Sanders is a consensus first-round pick by most MLB draft experts. He shot up 2023 draft boards after a stellar season last year.

In 89.1 innings, Sanders had a 3.43 ERA and struck out 91 batters in 2022. This year, Sanders has gone through a slight regression with his ERA rising to 4.18, but indications are he might be getting a little unlucky. Sanders’ xFIP is 3.06 and his K-BB rate has increased from 2.91 in 2022 to 5.38 in 2023.

In Sanders’ last three starts he’s thrown 19 innings but surrendered 11 ER, so he will try to right the ship against the Tigers this weekend. If Sanders does get back on track, you can count on him leaning on his electric fastball that he can run up as high as 97. He will also mix in a good breaking ball and changeup.

Saturday starter Noah Hall is off to the best start of any of SC’s weekend guys. In 31.1 innings, Hall has a 2.59 ERA and has struck 31 batters while walking just 7. Opponents have just a .537 OPS against Hall and his WHIP is 0.99, a career-low. Hall was also named SEC Pitcher of the Week in February when he threw 8 scoreless innings against Penn and struck out 12.

Hall was selected in the 20th round of last year’s draft but elected to come back to school and it looks like that decision might pay dividends for him. Hall’s arsenal includes a fastball that sits in the low to mid-90s with a solid slider and changeup. Hall’s biggest strength is seldom does he throw a pitch that close.

Jack Mahoney is the Sunday starter for the Gamecocks. Mahoney missed 2022 after having Tommy John Surgery, but he was fantastic on the mound in 2021 with a 1.62 ERA in 33.1 innings.

Mahoney has an elite fastball that can run up to 97 and a hard-breaking slider to pair with it. Thanks to his strong stuff, Mahoney has been able to strike out 32 batters in just 21 innings this year. He also has a 3.00 ERA and 2.75 xFIP.

As far as No. 3 starters go, Mahoney is up there as one of the best in the conference.

Out of the bullpen, there’s a true freshman Tiger fans should keep an eye on. Eli Jerzembeck has a four-pitch mix including a fastball that gets into the mid-90s. In 16.1 innings this season, Jerzembeck has a 3.31 ERA and 22 Ks.

James Hicks is the best reliever on the Gamecocks. In 18.2 innings, Hicks has a 0.96 ERA, and opponents have a measly .337 OPS against him. He, like Mahoney, missed last season with TJ but has returned strong.

Game Schedule

Friday @ 6 p.m.

Saturday @ 3 p.m.

Sunday @ 11 a.m.