South Carolina baseball coach Chad Holbrook knew he had something special in Wil Crowe before the freshman showed up on campus. Six starts into Crowe’s career, nothing has changed his coach’s mind.
After a strong preseason earned the 6-foot-1, 230-pound right-hander a spot in the weekend rotation, he served notice in his first career start that he was ready for the spotlight. He tossed 6 1/3 hitless innings against Bucknell, with one walk and five strikeouts, and he retired 13 consecutive batters at one point to collect his first USC win.
As the schedule has gotten more difficult, the Sevierville, Tenn., native has continued to shine. As the second-ranked Gamecocks enter this weekend against No. 22 Tennessee, Crowe leads the starters with five wins, 38 2/3 innings pitched, and a 1.63 ERA.
“Wil’s been great. He’s, certainly, on track to be a freshman All-American,” Holbrook said. “We need him to continue to pitch well. He’s got an awesome responsibility in front of him pitching on weekends as a freshman in this league. He, certainly, has more than held his own.”
Crowe has allowed 25 hits and six walks while opponents are batting .197 against him. He has the ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes, as he works off a fastball that sits in the 92-93 mph range while mixing in a slider, curveball and changeup.
Holbrook has been impressed by Crowe’s ability to throw that “very, very good” changeup for strikes, which makes that fastball even more effective when he locates it. Crowe does his best to work as quickly as possible and use his off-speed pitches to complement his fastball.
“It’s easy for me to get in a pace and get my rhythm going,” he said. “I always want to have more than one pitch. My curveball and my slider have been a big part of how I throw strikes and how I get through games.”
USC junior catcher Grayson Greiner likes to catch Crowe because of the way the freshman goes about his business.
“He knows what he wants to do out there. He’s not waiting for what Coach (Jerry) Meyers wants or for what I want,” Greiner said. “He likes to work fast and attack the zone. With the stuff he has, that makes it really tough on the hitter.”
Crowe has yet to give up more than three runs in a start and won all of them except for Clemson, which required a late rally from his teammates. He posted a career-high nine strikeouts against Brown. And he held a hard-hitting Kentucky team to four hits in six innings to enable the Gamecocks to avoid a sweep last weekend.
“He doesn’t really look like a freshman out there. He’s pitched really well in every SEC game he’s had,” Greiner said. “He dominated all fall and in the preseason, so we expected it. He’s helping us win on Sundays, which is one of our mottos. We love having him in that role, and we feel that we can win any time he’s on the bump.”
Crowe, who was drafted by the Cleveland Indians last June, came highly touted out of Pigeon Forge High, which he led to a state championship in his senior season. The player of the year in the state of Tennessee, he was ranked the No. 141 overall draft prospect in the nation by Baseball America.
But the low-key Crowe downplays the accolades, as well as the fast start to his collegiate career. He’s more concerned with the Gamecocks (21-3) continuing to play well.
“I’m just really worried about getting wins and just help the team by coming out here and doing my best to throw strikes,” Crowe said. “I’m not really trying to overdo it or trying to push myself too much.”
So far, that approach has worked, which has Crowe excited about contributing right away for a top-level program.
“It’s amazing. It’s awesome. It’s an incredible experience,” he said. “I just want to keep it going and keep doing my part.”