Through his first four outings at South Carolina, former Greenbrier High School star Nolan Belcher just didn't seem like himself. The young man who won 47 games and struck out more than 500 batters during a brilliant high school career suddenly was having control issues.
His first outing was not too bad. He allowed one run and two hits in four innings of work in frigid conditions in an 8-4 win over Duquesne. He was then called on to shut down rival Clemson with one out in the seventh. He was pulled after three consecutive walks . Luckily, the Gamecocks held on for a 3-1 victory.
In his second start of the season, he didn't make it out of the fourth inning -- yielding five hits, four runs and a pair of walks. Then he walked a batter and gave up two hits and two runs without getting anyone out in a relief appearance in South Carolina's 16-8 loss to Wofford.
Belcher, known for his command, was having trouble throwing strikes. His first few outings were in chilly weather, and he was jumping to SEC-caliber baseball, but no one expected control to be an issue for the lefty.
His fifth outing might be one that leads to a turnaround. He was not the dominant pitcher who led his high school teams to a trio of state titles, but he did show signs that he has shaken off the control bug that had bitten him early this season. Belcher yielded seven hits and four runs in a 10-3 South Carolina loss to Mississippi State.
That doesn't sound like the Belcher we have come to know, but there were some bright spots in the performance. After entering the game in the third inning for starter Blake Cooper with his team down 4-0, Belcher showed more confidence and poise on the mound than he has since his earlier outings this season.
Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner left Belcher in for 5w innings. He struck out six batters while giving up only one free pass. That alone was reason to cheer.
You see, Belcher's "stuff" was never in question. What people were beginning to wonder was if his confidence was wavering. He did not completely shut down Mississippi State, but he appears to have his brief bout with control issues behind him.
I have two messages to give. First to Belcher: Hang in there. You are a few outings into what I know will be a terrific collegiate career. The strikeouts, wins and knee-buckling curve balls will start to pile up. Just keep doing what you do best -- working hard to achieve your goals on the diamond. If you do that, everything will fall into place.
Secondly, for coach Tanner: I do not have to tell you what great potential Belcher has. You certainly know that. However, I would recommend sticking with Belcher in the starting rotation. Your Gamecocks will be better for it.
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