We picked South Carolina baseball's all-time starting nine
This is the latest in our series of all time starting nines for some of college baseball’s most successful programs. Players' professional careers were not considered, just their college careers — along with consideration given to their positional fits as well as a batting order that could provide a combination of a high batting average, speed and power.
1. Mike Curry (1996-98) – Outfield
If you were to create the perfect leadoff hitter in a laboratory, there's a good chance the final product would look something like Curry. An All-American in 1998, Curry hit a team-high .400 (just one of six South Carolina players ever to do so), while hitting 16 home runs and 46 RBI with a .681 slugging percentage and .485 on-base percentage. He swiped 60 bags that season, the second-most in school history, and scored an SEC-best 102 runs, which is South Carolina's single-season record by 15 runs. Curry hit for average and power, then had elite speed on the basepaths to do some serious damage.
Curry stole 20 bases as a freshman, which is a respectable number, then stole roughly 20 more bases in each of the next two seasons, swiping 42 bags as a sophomore, then the aforementioned 60 as a junior, giving him a program-record 122 for his career.
2. Jackie Bradley Jr. (2009-11) – Outfield
Bradley Jr. left South Carolina in 2011 arguably as accomplished, both individually and as a member of the Gamecocks teams he was on, as almost any player in program history. The two-time national champion helped South Carolina win back-to-back national titles in 2010 and 2011 and he was named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player in 2010.
Bradley Jr. was named a Freshman All-American in 2009 after hitting .349 with 11 home runs and 46 RBI, recording a freshman-record 89 hits. He broke out as a sophomore, earning team MVP honors after batting a team-high .368 with 13 homers and 60 RBI, both of which led the team, while drawing 41 walks with a .473 on-base percentage and a .993 fielding percentage.
A wrist injury limited Bradley as a junior but he was still a contributing member to South Carolina's repeat national title efforts. He finished his college career with two SEC All-Defensive team selections and among the program's career leaders in hits and home runs.
3. Landon Powell (2001-04) – Catcher
This decisions was a three-horse race between Powell, Ryan Bordenick and Chris Boyle. Bordenick was a two-time All-American who holds the South Carolina single-season record for his .419 batting average with more than 100 at-bats in the 1997 season and Boyle was the catcher for two College World Series teams while finishing his career in the top six in program history in both home runs and RBI.
However, Powell ranks in the top five in school history in several offensive categories and his defense behind the plate was arguably more impressive than his offense. He tied a South Carolina record by throwing out 55 base runners who were attempting to steal and he holds the school's single-game, single-season and career records for putouts.
Powell, a South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, was named to the College World Series All-Tournament Team in 2002 and 2004, while also being named a First Team All-American as a senior after batting .330 with 19 home runs, 66 RBI, a .611 slugging percentage, .427 on-base percentage and a .997 fielding percentage. He ranks second in career doubles (61), third in walks (137), fourth in hits (265), RBI (193), and total bases (468), and fifth in home runs (44).
4. Justin Smoak (2006-08) – First base
Smoak is the best power hitter in South Carolina history and among the best that the SEC has ever seen. His 62 career home runs, 207 RBI, 485 total bases, 151 walks and 28 intentional walks rank first in program history, showing his power, his patient eye at the plate and the respect from opposing pitchers. Smoak has at least 14 more home runs than every other Gamecocks player and his 62 homers are fifth in SEC history.
Congrats to Justin Smoak (’06-08) - Class of 2016 USC Athletics Hall of Fame - 62 career homers, a school record pic.twitter.com/TLJButBklT— Gamecock Baseball (@GamecockBasebll) August 19, 2016
The former South Carolina first baseman was a great college player from the jump, earning Freshman All-American honors after recording 17 home runs, 63 RBI, 143 total bases and a .586 slugging percentage, all of which were freshman records at the school. Smoak was an All-American as a sophomore after hitting 22 homers and knocking in 72 runs. He followed that up with a junior season in which he was a consensus First Team All-American after hitting a team-high .383 with 23 home runs, 72 RBI, a .757 slugging percentage that ranks third in South Carolina history and a ridiculous .505 on-base percentage.
Smoak started all 195 games in his college career at first base and he was twice named an NCAA Regional MVP.
5. Brian Buscher (2002-03) – Third base
This was a tough call between Buscher and John Marquardt, who holds South Carolina's single-season record for slugging percentage of .767 in 1978. Both players only played for the Gamecocks for two seasons and while Marquardt's First Team All-American campaign in '78 was arguably the best individual season of either of the players in college, Buscher was more consistent, had better power numbers and led South Carolina to back-to-back College World Series appearances.
He hit .323 with 14 home runs and 64 RBI for the national runner-up Gamecocks. Then, he had an All-American season in which he hit an SEC-best .393 in 2003, when he earned South Carolina's Taylor McEntire Most Valuable Player award, with a team-high 15 home runs, team-high 66 RBI, a .644 slugging percentage and a .444 on-base percentage. Buscher's career average of .356 ranks 10th in program history.
After his professional playing days were over, Buscher returned to South Carolina as a volunteer assistant coach.
6. Adam Everett (1997-98) – Shortstop
You could make a compelling case for several players for South Carolina's all-time starting shortshop. Drew Meyer is in the school's athletics Hall of Fame after a three-year career in which he helped the Gamecocks win two SEC titles and finish as national runners-up in 2002, while he was an All-American who hit .359 with six home runs, 40 RBI and a school-record 120 hits. Brian Roberts was named an All-American and the team MVP in 1999 after hitting .353 with a team-high 12 home runs and 36 RBI while swiping a record 67 bags. Reese Havens was also an All-American and the team MVP in 2008 after batting .359 with 18 home runs, 57 RBI and scoring a team-high 76 runs.
However, Everett had the best two-year stretch, individually, when he hit .356 with eight home runs, 52 RBI and 82 runs in 1997, followed by a season in which he was named a First Team All-American and the team's MVP after he batted .375 with 21 doubles, 13 homers, 63 RBI, 71 runs, a .629 slugging percentage and a .436 on-base percentage.
He's first in program history with a 1.55 hits per game average and his career .366 batting average ranks third.
7. Mac White (1991-94) – Outfield
White began his South Carolina career as a Freshman All-American and left Columbia, S.C., as the program's all-time leader in hits (303) and doubles (67), second in RBI (198), total bases (472), and triples (12), fourth in runs (209), seventh in walks (125) and ninth in steals (69). He started a program-record 236 games in row from 1992 to 1994.
White put together an All-American season as a senior, when he earned team MVP honors after batting a team-high .367 while leading the Gamecocks with eight home runs and 63 RBI.
8. Scott Wingo (2008-11) – Second base
While Wingo wasn't a great hitter in his first three seasons (He batted .230, .196, and .247, respectively), he had a strong senior season and was a critical piece in South Carolina's back-to-back national championship runs. He scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning in the 2010 College World Series, then he was named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player in 2011 after hitting .333 over five games with four RBI, including three in the finals. He also made several impressive defensive plays that kept the team's championship hopes alive.
In 2011, Wingo was named to the All-SEC Team after hitting .338 for the season with four home runs, 31 RBI, 44 walks and a .467 on-base percentage. He holds South Carolina's single-season and career records for putouts and assists among second basemen, and he was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team twice. He finished one game shy of tying Michael Campbell's record for career games played of 255.
9. Earl Bass (1972-1975) – Pitcher
Are we allowed to make South Carolina's all-time starting nine play a hypothetical doubleheader so that we're allowed to pick two starting pitchers? With all due respect to Kip Bouknight, who is absolutely deserving of this spot – after being named a First Team All-American and SEC Player of the Year as a junior, when he won the Golden Spikes Award after compiling a 17-1 record with a 2.81 ERA and 143 strikeouts – we're going with Bass.
Bass was named a First Team All-American as a junior and senior, including a 17-1 season of his own as a senior in 1975, when he led South Carolina to a national runner-up finish at the College World Series. He was named to the CWS All-Tournament Team, capping off a season in which he struck out 168 batters, which is tied for the most in program history, and had a 1.40 ERA.
Our thoughts are with the Bass family after the passing of Earl Bass. Bass was a two-time All-American, helped the Gamecocks to the CWS in 1975, won 23 consecutive games on the mound and was named an SEC Baseball Legend this past May. pic.twitter.com/Mlj6JKm2Fo— Gamecock Baseball (@GamecockBasebll) February 4, 2018
Despite missing most of his sophomore season, Bass still ranks second in career strikeouts (392) and tied for fourth in career wins (34). His 34-3 career record gave him a .918 career winning percentage and he once won 23 consecutive starts, which was an NCAA record at the time. His career 1.34 ERA is microscopic and he had three seasons in which he averaged at least 10 strikeouts per nine innings.
Both Bass and Bouknight are all-time greats for South Carolina and had Bass stayed healthy as a sophomore, he could've potentially set records that even Bouknight may not have been able to break a quarter century later.
Coach: Ray Tanner (1997-2012)
In Tanner's 16 seasons as South Carolina's coach, he led the Gamecocks to back-to-back national championships in 2010 and 2011, as well as runner-up finishes in 2002 and 2012, as the school nearly three-peated. In total, he led the program to six College World Series appearances and three SEC Championships. Tanner won 70 percent of his games at the school, finishing with a 738-316 record at South Carolina, giving him 1,133 career wins, including his victories during his previous stop at NC State.