College Sports

Standout Gamecock pitcher ending career early, but he’s not leaving team just yet

A promising season derailed by injuries has ended with South Carolina baseball closer Sawyer Bridges deciding to transition to a new role with the Gamecocks.

Bridges, who was named to the national preseason Stopper of the Year watchlist heading into the 2019 season, will apply for a medical hardship, forgo his final year of eligibility and join USC’s coaching staff as a student assistant in 2020, The State has confirmed.

In his sophomore season, Bridges played a key role in South Carolina’s run to the NCAA Super Regionals, solidifying the back end of the Gamecocks’ bullpen. In 21 appearances, he collected a 2-1 record, five saves and a 1.35 ERA. The fiery, competitive Summerville, South Carolina, native struck out 25 batters while walking just nine and allowing 27 hits across 33 1/3 innings, for a batting average against of .223.

Around that standout season, however, Bridges struggled with injuries. As a freshman, he tore his rotator cuff and underwent surgery, and shoulder troubles plagued his junior year, leading to his decision to join the coaching staff.

As a junior, Bridges saw his ERA jump more than five runs to 6.75 as he gave up 14 earned runs across 18 2/3 innings in 15 appearances. Opponents hit .297 off him as he battled health issues. His final appearance, against USC Upstate on May 14, was a perfect inning with a strikeout, but he did not pitch as the Gamecocks played at Mississippi State to clinch an SEC tournament berth or in Carolina’s 8-6 loss to LSU in the tourney.

Bridges’ injury was one of many to hit the South Carolina pitching staff this past season, forcing coach Mark Kingston to rely heavily on underclassmen as his depth became perilously thin towards the end of the year.

In addition to Bridges, the Gamecocks have already lost three players for 2020, all due to transfer — pitcher Logan Chapman and infielders Quinntin Perez and Jacob English.

The Big Spur first reported Bridges’ decision.

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.