College baseball: Gamecocks work up an Opening Day win
by Al Muskewitz
Feb 14, 2014 | 2044 views |  0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State's Taylor Shields fires a pitch to the plate against Northwestern State. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Jacksonville State's Taylor Shields fires a pitch to the plate against Northwestern State. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
JACKSONVILLE — When a pitcher gets handed the ball on Opening Day the presumption is he is or is expected to be the ace of the staff.

If that’s the path for Jacksonville State’s Taylor Shields this baseball season, then the senior right-hander is off to a good start.

Shields worked the first five innings of the Gamecocks’ 6-4 season-opening win over Northwestern (La.) State on Friday, becoming their first starting pitcher to win on Opening Day in 12 years.

While he might not have been at mid-season form, it was a good way to launch the year.

“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” Shields said. “Once you get the first one out of the way you feel like you’re in the same spot you left off of last year.

“I hope to keep it that way. I hope I can throw like that every time I go out there and give us the best chance to win.”

Shields was the Gamecocks’ Opening Day starter a year ago at Kennesaw State with a much different result.

Pitching his first game in a JSU uniform, he lasted only 3 1/3 innings, giving up five runs (four earned) on six hits in 48 pitches and took the 11-6 loss. He went on to lead the staff in wins with an 8-3 record and 4.15 ERA.

On Friday, he threw 56 pitches, gave up three hits — all singles — one earned run, walked one, hit two and struck out two. It was his fifth straight regular-season victory.

“Last year was a lot more nervous because it was my first year coming in,” he said. “The pre-game nerves were the same as last year, but last year I think once I started I never did calm down.

“This year as soon as the first pitch was thrown it was just like I left off from last year. The game couldn’t have turned out any better for me. I love being out there and it was fun.”

Opening Day hasn’t been really kind to the Gamecocks. Before Friday, they hadn’t won a season opener since 2004 when they beat Alabama on Scott Smith’s two-run homer in the ninth.

Shields is their first starting pitcher to win on Opening Day since Steve Shippey beat Alabama State in 2002 — Jim Case’s first game as their coach.

“Part of him having the ball today is a real trust factor, what he did for us last year,” Case said. “I don’t know right now we need to be thinking 1, 2, 3 (in the rotation), that sort of thing, but I felt based on what he’s done, he was a very logical choice to be the Opening Day guy.”

Opening Day also signaled a good start for true freshman Peyton Williams. The leftfielder, playing in his first college game, went 3-for-4 with an RBI and stolen base.

The first time he came to the plate in a college game, he looped a double into short center field, and all of a sudden the butterflies were gone. He had a bases-loaded single in a four-run fourth inning that propelled Shields to the victory.

“I’m not going to lie, there were a lot of nerves, so the whole mindset was just being relaxed, go out and play the game you love and have fun with it,” Williams said. “Good things will happen if you have fun.”

Shortstop Andrew Bishop doubled in each of his first two at-bats and had a sacrifice fly in the fifth. Gavin Golsan, Eddie Mora-Loera, Griff Gordon and newcomer Ryan Sebra also drove in runs for the Gamecocks.

Travis Stout, the preseason Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year, came on in the ninth after Michael Mason hit the leadoff batter. Stout and finished it off for his first save of the season. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last 13 appearances going back to last season.

Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.
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