What 'won the ballgame' for South Carolina over N.C. State (2023)

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    (Video) #15 South Carolina vs NC State (Great Game!) | Regionals Winners Bracket | 2023 College Baseball

South Carolina played a near-perfect baseball game Saturday night against N.C. State to stay in the winning bracket at the Columbia Regional, but one thing stood out above the rest.

John Whittle

For most of the season, even when fully healthy, South Carolina's baseball team was below average defensively. There are some talented defenders and some good plays made throughout the year, but the Gamecocks (41-19) have lived in the bottom third of the SEC in field goal percentage.

Saturday, in the 6-3 win over N.C. State to advance in the winning bracket of the Columbia Regional, the defense was the difference for the Gamecocks, and it was the difference in the best of ways.

South Carolina turned three critical double plays and also had a SportsCenter -type catch from its shortstop, who had recently returned from injury.

“Their defense, I thought we played really good defense, but I thought their defense won them the ballgame,” N.C. said. State head coach Elliott Avent. "They played with every infielder on the diamond."

It started on the very first at-bat of the game by the Wolfpack, when the second basemanMichael Braswellwent to his right on a hard ground ball back up the middle. A few feet deep in the outfield grass, Braswell made a backhand play and fired to first to get the speedy Noah Soles.

Starter pitcherJack Mahoneytipped the cap to a play later in the inning whenEthan Petryblazed down the right field line and delivered a strong throw from right field to strand a runner on third base.

(Video) NC State vs. South Carolina (Columbia Regional) | College Baseball Regionals

There was a tall helicopter hit aboveGavin Casason first base and with the runner in the first inning on contact, it was a real threat for the Wolfpack to take a 1-0 lead in the first inning. However, Petry got to the ball quickly and showed off his arm cannon from bad ground as Cannon Peebles beat the breaks nearly halfway home to head back to third base.

"I don't think people realize how big of a play it is by Petry," Mahoney said. "It changed the color of the whole game. Shoutout to Pet. He saved my butt."

ShortstopBraylen Wimmer, shaded up the middle, used every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame to make a leaping catch back and to his right on a flare off the bat of Eli Serrano.

“His leadership is physical. The guys like him to be out there in the middle,” South Carolina head coachMark Kingstonsaid. "You saw the defensive play he made. He brings so many things to the table for us and we're a better team overall when he's out there."

Braswell lined a soft grounder up the middle and stepped on the bag and fired to first base for a4-3 double play in the fifth as Mahoney faced the minimum for four straight innings, the first of three double plays.

ReplacementEli Jonesinduced an easy double play ball to end the seventh inning, but it came off the bat of the potential tying run in what was then a 6-3 lead for the hosts.

The very next round,Gavin Casaswould start the final double play of the game and perhaps made his defensive play of the season. With Casas with a runner on first base, Peebles hit a rocket of a one-hopper to the first baseman's right side. Casas went to ground for the backhand play, stepped on the bag and fired to second base.

Wimmer was able to tag out LuJames Groover to clear the bases. Jones struck out the next batter he faced and the crowd was on its feet with the Gamecocks three outs away from a win.

(Video) 2017.09.02 NC State Wolfpack vs South Carolina Gamecocks Football

"He's a left-handed hitter, so I was expecting a quick snap-hook drive," Casas said. "Luckily it was the backhand and I caught it, threw to second and the emotion came out of there."

After the Florida series, South Carolina was 12th in the SEC in fielding percentage at .969 with a wide gap between it and 11th-place Florida at .974.

While the Gamecocks haven't lost many games this year due to their defensive performance, it has been below average for most of the year, even in the good times.

But South Carolina, now hitting .974 on the season after its most recent game, won Saturday because of its defense.

ESPN college football analyst Greg McElroy has high hopes for Spencer Rattler and Antwane Wells next season.

Alex Jones

South Carolina quarterbackSpencer Rattlerhad a decision to make at the end of the 2022 season as to whether he wanted to enter the 2023 NFL Draft or return to Columbia for another season in maroon and black. The Gamecocks' quarterback decided it was in his best interest to return for another season.

Rattler played a big role in the late regular season success, throwing for 1,044 yards and 10 touchdowns on 84-of-122 passing in the final three contests of the 2022 season.Rattler finished his first season in maroon and black with 3,026 yards and 18 touchdowns.

(Video) NC State vs North Carolina Highlights (Great Game!) | 2023 College Baseball Season

On Wednesday afternoon, ESPN college football analyst Greg McElroy ranked the top five quarterbacks in the SEC, and he ranked Rattler at No. 4.

"A guy that I'm excited about," McElroy said on his podcast, 'Always College Football with Greg McElroy.'"Spencer Rattler, not a great year if you consider the first nine, 10 games. If you consider the last three, the guy has been cooking with gas. We know there was a bit of an adjustment period for him to move from Lincoln Riley's offense at Oklahoma to what they did last year underMarcus Satterfield. They used a lot of verbiage, a lot of terminology."

McElroys top fem quarterbacks i SEC varJayden Daniels(LSU),Will Rogers(Mississippi State),KJ Jefferson(Arkansas), Rattler andDevin Leary(Kentucky).

McElroy believes the offense Loggains implements with the Gamecocks will take some of the pressure off the Rattlers' shoulders in 2023.

“In stepsDowell Loggains" McElroy said. "It's going to be a little more like what Arkansas did last year. That's where Dowell Loggains was. He's moving now. It gets faster. It will be fast. It will be simplified play calling that will take a little bit off the shoulders of Spencer Rattler, which will allow him to play more instinctively and allow him to regain the confidence he had at one point three years ago when he was unanimously in the offseason heading into 2021 perhaps the best player in college football."

Rattler played his best ball down the stretch, and McElroy wants to see him carry those performances into the 2023 season.

"We remember how he finished the season," McElroy said. "Everyone wants to talk about the Tennessee performance. Played pretty well against Clemson, of course, and then finished the season in fine form against Notre Dame. That's 13 touchdowns in his last five games, including six against Tennessee. He finished with a whoosh.”

Rattlers topmål i 2022 iAntwane Wellsalso declined the NFL Draft to return to the Gamecocks next season and has been talked about as one of the best returning wide receivers in the SEC.

(Video) November 1, 1986 South Carolina vs NC State in Raleigh

"He also has an excellent wide receiver to rely on in Juice Wells, who may very well be as good as anyone in the conference at wide receiver," McElroy said. "As your reliable number one guy, he might be top-ranked, or at least among the best in the league. He might not beMalik Nabersat LSU, but he's really close. I think with another year of developing a relationship with Spencer Rattler, that tandem could accelerate toward the top.

"I'm bullish on Spencer Rattler. I just want to see him stretch it out over a 12- or 13-game season as opposed to four or five games like he did last year."

Rattler and the Gamecocks open the 2023 season againstDrake Mayeand the North Carolina Tar Heels on Sept. 2 in Charlotte at Bank of America Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ABC.


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