This weekend could’ve gone several ways as bad luck showed its ugly face again, and this time, it came looking for another starting pitcher who is key to the Gamecocks’ success.
Heading into this weekend, the Gamecocks carried a 6-3 record and were looking to have a strong weekend to put the bad luck of the St. Pete tournament behind them.
Down senior Cayla Drotar for the foreseeable future, the Gamecocks would head into the weekend with five pitchers – only one with substantial experience – facing four opponents in three days, including the undefeated #8 Michigan Wolverines.
The Gamecocks had a hill to climb that quickly became a mountain as game one against Boston College rolled around.
Junior Kelsey Oh started the game off with a quick four-pitch strikeout. Yet after walking the next two batters and throwing a wild pitch to move the runners to second and third, it was evident that something wasn’t right, and she was replaced with sophomore Karly Heath.
There still has not been a report on what exactly happened, but it was evident Oh was in serious discomfort as she walked off the field.
The loss of Oh becomes the second starting pitcher in a week for the Gamecocks to be scratched from the list of available arms, as South Carolina can’t seem to escape the injury bug early this season.
Down to just four pitchers on the roster, Coach Bev turned to Heath to step into the circle and finish the game.
Heath would pitch 6.1 innings against Boston College, giving up three hits for two runs and ringing up five batters in the process.
Her performance kept the Gamecocks in the game as it stretched into extra innings before a walk by senior Mackenzie Boesel and a double from junior Katie Prebble in the bottom of the 8th would give the Gamecocks a 3-2 win.
Freshman Karsen Ochs came in to relieve Heath in the top of the 8th inning and would get the win, moving to 2-0 on the season as she struck out two and forced a pop-up to give South Carolina a chance to walk it off.
Game two would feature the Gamecocks versus the Wolverines on Saturday, as the 3:00 game would present South Carolina with a chance to get a huge win versus the #8 team in the nation.
Being down two starters, who accounted for a little more than two-thirds of the innings pitched last year, South Carolina would have a huge mountain to climb as Freshman Karsen Ochs stepped into the circle, since Heath had pitched the night before.
Saturday’s game would only be Ochs’ second ever collegiate start and her fourth appearance for the Gamecocks so far.
Asking a freshman to take on a top eight opponent this early in her career is a lot to ask, but Coach Bev’s faith in her freshman paid off as Ochs would pitch seven full innings, only giving up two hits and a walk.
Karsen Ochs shut out the Wolverines, and her teammates would reward her stellar performance with a two-run homer in the second by sophomore Madison Owens and a RBI triple in the fifth by senior Lauren Stewart to give the Gamecocks their first ranked win of the year over #8 Michigan, 3-0.
Ochs’ performance was so impressive that the entire SEC took notice, and Karsen would be named the SEC Freshman of the Week as she claimed three wins in one week to put the whole nation on notice.
This girl came to play, and her career at South Carolina is sure to be one you’re definitely not going to want to miss – Karsen Ochs is sure to be a name to be remembered.
Game three would be held just over two hours later, when the Gamecocks squared off with the Iowa State Cyclones in the night cap at 8:15.
Karly Heath would get the start for the Gamecocks and pitch seven complete innings, striking out five and giving up five hits for three earned runs.
She would only walk one batter on the way to her first win of the year and the Gamecocks ninth win of the season.
Offensively, South Carolina would put up a great effort to score five runs; three off of the bat of sophomore Kassidy Krupit who went 2-3 with a single in the first and a home run in the fifth, and the remaining two coming from a double by Heath and a single from Haley Simpson in the second inning.
The Gamecocks took the win over the Cyclones 5-3, moving to 9-3 on the season and 26-0 in the Gamecock Invitational all time.
The final game of the sixth annual Gamecock Invitational would put the Gamecocks up against the Phoenixes of Elon.
With Ochs and Heath both logging two full games of action this week, Coach Bev took a chance and gave the ball to true freshman Bailey Betenbaugh to give her teammates a day off and finish the week 5-0.
In her first collegiate performance ever, Betenbaugh would not disappoint, as she threw a complete game with only one hit and led the Gamecocks to a 4-0 victory over Elon, closing a perfect 5-0 week.
Betenbaugh would carry the no-hit bid into the seventh inning, striking out the first batter before giving up a one-out double.
She responded quickly with a ground out and a pop-up to finish the game, sealing her first ever win as a Gamecock with a complete game shutout one-hitter.
Betenbaugh would be backed by four runs scored from teammates Lauren Stewart (stole home on throwing error), Katie Prebble (RBI single), Hannah Kumiyama (RBI single), and Haley Simpson (sac fly).
Senior Lauren Stewart would be responsible for two of the runs scored.
The Gamecocks had a solid rebound week after a rough one in St. Petersburg, going 5-0 on the week with a total of 34 runs scored and averaging seven runs a game, yet allowing roughly one run a game for a total of six runs throughout the week.
Simply put, South Carolina came home and handled business the Gamecock way.
With a much easier stretch of games coming up this week featuring Georgia Southern, Troy, and Charlotte, the Gamecocks should be able to use the four remaining pitchers they have in the bullpen to get through the week and allow Oh and Drotar to rest, heal, and get back to the lineup.
With the outstanding performances by the freshmen this week, Gamecock fans should have hope that the four young pitchers remaining in the bullpen can carry the squad the distance until the leaders get back to full health.
This team has grit, tenacity, and an attitude you can’t coach.
Given all the bad breaks recently, they could’ve let that bring them down and reflect in their play – but they didn’t, and because of their perseverance they now stand at 10-3 and look poised to prove that they’re just getting started.
With a young group of great pitchers looking to carry the load and make a name for themselves and their team, I expect big things from these ladies.
Especially the two freshmen, Karsen Ochs & Bailey Betenbaugh, who have thoroughly impressed all of Gamecock Nation thus far this season.
I cannot wait to see what they’ll do next.