Adam Westmoreland didnt know what his baseball future at South Carolina held at the end of last season. The left-handed pitcher never got into a game after mid-April, and he was left off the active roster for the College World Series.
Some guys might have quit or looked to finish at a different place, but that never crossed Westmorelands mind. He had too much of his life invested in the program and the school. He wanted to return because he was determined to go out on a high note.
The 6-foot-5, 270-pound redshirt senior he missed the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery said he understood his own inconsistency kept him from fulfilling the promise that he showed coming out of Brookland-Cayce High in 2008 as one of the states top pitchers and a draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ive been here so long. I was close to finishing my degree, and I knew either way, whether I played or didnt, that I was still a part of something good, Westmoreland said. Ive been a part of something great since Ive been here. I have no issues with that.
Halfway through this season, Westmoreland has discovered his form in a middle-relief role. In 28 innings over 10 appearances, he has compiled a 0.96 ERA and allowed 20 hits and three walks while striking out 29.
He picked up his first win in the season-opening series against Liberty and earned two more victories with strong outings in the series sweep against Texas A&M. He earned saves by closing out wins against Rider and the College of Charleston.
The run of success had led to plenty of opportunities, a stark contrast to last season.
Ive been up and down since Ive been here. Not getting the opportunity (last season) wasnt the tough part. It was being inconsistent. I knew I was capable of throwing better, he said. It feels good to know that the coaches are gaining trust in me. I just want to keep it going in a positive direction.
Pitching coach Jerry Meyers credited Westmorelands pitching last summer in the Coastal Plain League and coming back last fall more focused and more comfortable as factors in his resurgence.
Theres a mental thing there that allowed him to be more locked in without putting pressure on himself, Meyers said. And hes locating a lot better. Hes making his pitches. Maybe his stuff is a little better, but his command at this point is a lot better than it was last year.
Over the 2009, 2011 and 2012 seasons, Westmoreland went 7-4 with a 4.46 ERA over 31 appearances, 19 of them starts.
But after he worked with Meyers on his mechanics in the fall and talked with coach Chad Holbrook about pitching with confidence, Westmoreland has turned his experience and a new toughness on the mound into a prominent role on the staff.
Meyers, who saluted Westmorelands intestinal fortitude for fighting his way back, hopes to see the near-dominating performances continue over the second half.
Hes playing a huge part. He has been right in the thick of things up to this point with double-digit appearances, and they were all in meaningful situations, Meyers said. He has handled himself well, and even when he wasnt perfect, he stayed out there and continued to battle.
The 23-year-old Westmoreland knows what real battles involve.
His father passed away his senior year in high school, and his mother, Cindy, was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2011 but remains a survivor today after undergoing treatment. He lives in Cayce with his mother as they provide support for each other.
Shes the only one Ive got left, he said.
His coaches and teammates helped offer support as well.
Baseball is like my sanctuary. You get away from everything, and you go out and play, he said. Its like a whole other family.
Westmoreland expects to graduate this summer with degrees in sociology and criminal justice. He hopes to get a chance to play professionally after throwing so well this spring. But he would love nothing more than to return to Omaha with his baseball family and be a key contributor, especially since he has yet to pitch in an NCAA tournament game.
Its my last go-around. I dont want to leave anything to chance, he said. I want to finish strong here more than anything so I can say my senior year was something I was really proud of.
WHEN: Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 12:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.
WHERE: Lindsey Nelson Stadium, Knoxville
RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5
TV: SportSouth, Saturday
SERIES: USC leads 48-34
LAST MEETING: USC won two-of-three last season against the Volunteers.
RECORDS: USC 23-7, 5-4 SEC; Tennessee 13-14, 3-6 SEC
RANKINGS: USC is No. 15 in Baseball America
PITCHING MATCHUPS: Friday, USC LHP Nolan Belcher, Sr., 5-2, 1.57 vs. Tennessee RHP Aaron Quillen, Fr., 1-1, 6.34; Saturday, USC RHP Evan Beal, Soph., 2-1, 4.30 vs. Tennessee RHP Nick Williams, Jr., 1-1, 3.46; Sunday, USC TBA vs. Tennessee RHP Zack Godley, Sr., 2-2, 3.04
NOTES: USC has won every series against Tennessee dating to 2007, winning 14-of-18 over that period. Nolan Belcher leads the nation in strikeout-to-walk ratio with 51 strikeouts to one walk. 1B LB Dantzler is the only USC player to start all 30 games this year. He hit his team-leading 10th home run earlier this week, which tied his total from 2012. The Gamecocks are 21-0 this season when leading after six innings.