Sam Kmiec threw a complete game, five-hit shutout as Winthrop dropped Charleston Southern 4-0 in the first round of the Big South Conference baseball tournament Tuesday morning.
It was a massive improvement on Kmiec’s last outing against Charleston Southern, the Big South’s best-hitting team. The Bucs (30-25) tagged Kmiec for nine hits and six earned runs in 6 2/3 innings during an 8-6 Winthrop loss on May 9. But Kmiec was a different animal on Tuesday, striking out a season-high seven and walking just two.
“Coach (Clint) Chrysler, our pitching coach, tells us to work down in the zone first, and then worry about movement and speed and all of that,” said Kmiec. “I thought I did a good job of that, but I also had some really good defensive plays behind me. Curve ball was a lot better than the last time we played them.”
Kmiec has now thrown 33 straight home innings without allowing a run, a stat announcer Dave Friedman mentioned on the game’s radio broadcast. Kmiec said the home scoreless streak is probably just a product of the comforts of home, especially with the pitching mound.
“It’s always different when you’re at home,” said Charleston Southern coach Stuart Lake. “They played really well, and we didn’t early. That was a big difference with him on the mound. Their guy pitched like a No. 1 guy.”
Kmiec, the sophomore left-hander, didn’t need much run support. T.J. Olesczuk’s two-run home run off Bucs lefty Tory Schroff put Winthrop (25-32) up 3-0 in the third inning, before first baseman Clay Altman sprayed a bases-loaded single into right field in the sixth inning to make it 4-0.
By that point, Kmiec was cruising. He retired 11 batters consecutively, before Fort Mill High School grad Alex Tomasovich led off the ninth inning with a stand-up double deep into the right field corner. But the Charleston Southern rally never materialized. Chase Shelton popped up, Nate Berry grounded out to first base and Zach Hagaman flied out to complete Kmiec’s complete game win.
“They’re a very good offensive team,” said Olesczuk. “But the way Sam was pitching, we knew you put a couple across, they weren’t going to score.”
Charleston Southern swept Winthrop two weeks ago, but the three straight losses down in Charleston provided the Eagles with a blueprint for what not to do, Kmiec especially.
“He was up in the zone two weeks ago,” said Riginos. “Here, everything was down in the zone, he was pounding the strike zone, his breaking ball was good all day. His stuff was a lot crisper.”
Three Charleston Southern errors also helped the tournament hosts’ cause. They took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second after John Menken led off the frame with a triple. Chad Smith grounded to third and Menken probably should have held the bag, but burst for home anyway. The throw to the plate was on target but dropped by catcher Sam Remick, putting the Eagles in front 1-0.
Olesczuk, the senior hitting close to .400 for much of the season, tripled the lead in the next inning. Leighton Daniels singled to right field and Olesczuk victimized a loose breaking ball from Schroff to make it 3-0.
“It was a 2-0 count, which is usually a fastball count, but the way he’s been pitching us, he’s been throwing that change-up all day,” said Olesczuk. “He left one in and I didn’t do too much and just tried to put the ball in play.”
Winthrop’s defense was as stout as the visitors’ was not. Kmiec got a number of pop-outs and ground balls to make the Eagles defenders’ job easier. Charleston Southern got the leadoff runner on base and he reached third on a sacrifice bunt. But Kmiec got Bucs’ leadoff hitter, Bobby Ison, whose .400-plus average leads the league in batting, to pop up, before striking out Andrew Widell swinging to end the threat.
“He’s the main guy in the lineup,” said Kmiec, referring to Ison, who was largely kept in check. “He’s probably the most respected hitter in the league.”
Those two outs jump-started three straight perfect innings for Kmiec. Turns out playing at 9:30 a.m. worked well for the Eagles.
“We’re used to doing things at a certain time,” said Olesczuk. Plus, he added, “we had extra motivation to know that if we win this game, we don’t have to wake up at 5:30 in the morning the next day.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T