Mark Kingston’s future at South Carolina takes center stage as Gamecocks’ season ends

South Carolina’s 2024 baseball season is over. The program might be at a crossroads.

The biggest question mark might be concerning what’s next for head coach Mark Kingston.

He’s been South Carolina’s head coach for seven years and has a 217-145 overall record, and 83-96 in the SEC. The Gamecocks have made four NCAA regional appearances and two super regionals in that time. Their 2024 season ended Sunday with a 2-0 loss to James Madison.

South Carolina hasn’t been to Omaha and the College World Series since 2012 — Ray Tanner’s final season as head coach.

After Sunday’s season-ending loss, Kingston declared that “there are so many parts of our program that are in great shape” and said “we need to continue to do everything we can to try and give this program what it needs to be successful.”

Asked if he believes he has the support of the administration to get the program where it needs to be, Kingston simply responded: “I think everybody at South Carolina wants to win at a high level.”

South Carolina would owe Kingston $400,000 if it opts to make a coaching change. His contract’s buyout clause dropped from $800,000 to $400,000 on June 1. His current contract runs through 2027 with a $725,000 annual salary.

One national pundit offered his own take Sunday on how he believes things might go for USC’s baseball program.

“I’d expect things to be newsy in Columbia,” D1Baseball’s Kendall Rogers posted to X (Twitter) shortly after Sunday’s game ended.

This is not the first time there’s been speculation about Kingston’s future. There were rumblings a change might come after the 2022 season when the Gamecocks finished 27-28, the program’s first losing season since 1996. But South Carolina won 42 games in 2023 and made a super regional appearance against Florida to garner a contract extension.

Tanner, now South Carolina’s athletics director, was asked about the future of Kingston at the SEC Spring Meeting in Destin, Florida this past week. He basically stated those conversations have yet to take place, but they should be completed within the next couple of weeks.

“I haven’t even… I think I’ve done a couple of end-of-year evaluations, but I just meet at the end of the year with everybody,” Tanner told The State. “All of those conversations will occur in the weeks to come with everybody.”

South Carolina coach Mark Kingston shakes hands with James Madison coach Marlin Ikenberry after Sunday’s NCAA Tournament baseball game in Raleigh. JMU won 2-0.
South Carolina coach Mark Kingston shakes hands with James Madison coach Marlin Ikenberry after Sunday’s NCAA Tournament baseball game in Raleigh. JMU won 2-0.

The 2024 season in review

This season looked promising until South Carolina stumbled down the stretch. Less than a month ago, the Gamecocks were 33-15 overall and 13-11 in the SEC after a midweek win over Winthrop. They were not only in the conversation of being a top-16 national seed, but they were just outside of being a top 8 national seed and in line to be a regional and possible super regional.

They had series wins over Vanderbilt, Florida and Kentucky during that early to midseason success.

But they were swept by Georgia and Tennessee to close the regular season before rebounding to go 3-2 in the SEC Tournament. They went 1-2 in the Raleigh Regional to finish out the season at 37-25, a 4-10 record over the final 14 games.

One of the more telling signs came in the final SEC series against Georgia. South Carolina was still in the mix to be a regional host, but smaller crowds were on hand at Founders Park for the key series against the Bulldogs. The announced attendance was decent based on ticket sales, but Founders Park’s actual attendance was sparse for the final three games.

South Carolina spent the entire season tinkering with the starting lineup and pitching rotation. The Gamecocks seemed to settle on putting their best offensive lineup on the field toward the latter part of the season, but that strategy had to be adjusted again with a couple of late season injuries.

Third baseman Gavin Casas broke the hamate bone in his right hand in the SEC Tournament and had surgery on it the day before the start of the NCAA Tournament. On the first day of the Raleigh Regional, star first baseman Ethan Petry was hit by a pitch by James Madison and suffered a hairline fracture on his left hand above his pinky.

“It was a good season,” Kingston said. “I don’t think any time you make the NCAA Tournament out of the SEC you can call it a failure. We still want to get better; we still want to be getting further in the postseason that we did. But I don’t think you can call it a failure. Only 64 teams made it, and we clearly want to be one of the last eight clearly. That is very disappointing.

“It was a good season but I’m always looking to have a great season.”

Player impacts

Junior catcher Cole Messina was a bright spot of 2024. The Summerville native earned second-team All-SEC honors and seemingly put the team on his back down the stretch. He posted an SEC Tournament record 16 RBIs in five games. His ninth-inning two-run home run tied Friday’s game against James Madison before USC eventually won in extra innings.

Messina ended up being the team leader in batting average (.332), hits (73), doubles (19), home runs (21 tied with Petry), RBIs (71), runs scored (64), and slugging percentage (.714).

Two transfers — Blake Jackson (Charlotte) and Kennedy Jones (UNC Greensboro) — also had solid seasons. They flirted with hitting near .300 and ended up being mainstays in the starting lineup.

“I think it was a good year,” Petry said. “I thought we had a lot of ups and downs. We had a lot more ups than downs. We learned a lot from this year and we’re going to take it into next year and rebuild the team.“

The pitching rotation remained in flux nearly all season. Toward the end of the regular season, the Gamecocks’ starters had trouble getting out of the first two or three innings. That taxed the bullpen, and everyone seemed to run out steam as the regular season wrapped up.

Eli Jones, Dylan Eskew and Roman Kimball were starters for the season-opening sweep of Miami of Ohio. Jones started the regional opener against James Madison and Eskew started the second game with the Dukes. But each of them struggled during the season and had stints where they came out of the bullpen.

Chris Veach, Garrett Gainey (Liberty transfer) and Ty Good (College of Charleston) seemed to be the most reliable pitchers in the latter part of the year.

The team’s ERA finished north of 5.00 (5.09 going into the final game) with a team batting average of .276. Only two regulars finished with a batting average above .300. The team struck out an alarming 617 times this season.

The mantle of the program since the days of Tanner winning back-to-back national championships in 2010-2011 has been “Win Anyway.” That has resonated with the fan base, but the depth and next-man mentality didn’t seem to resonate with this year’s team.

“I think every program in the country wants to keep getting better,” Kingston said. “We’re no different. The SEC is filled with teams dumping huge resources in and it’s just a matter of us doing everything that we can to try to give this program what it needs to be successful.”

South Carolina under Mark Kingston

  • 2018: 37-26, 17-13 SEC (reached NCAA supers)

  • 2019: 28-28, 8-22 SEC (no NCAAs)

  • 2020: 12-4 / Season canceled

  • 2021: 34-23; 16-14 SEC (reached NCAA regionals)

  • 2022: 27-28, 13-17 SEC (no NCAAs)

  • 2023: 42-21, 16-13 SEC (reached NCAA supers)

  • 2024: 37-25, 13-17 SEC (reached NCAA regionals)

The State’s Jordan Kaye contributed to this story