South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook stated in his introductory press conference that recruiting top pitchers is a big key to winning. On Friday, the Gamecocks picked up their first pitcher in the 2014 class when right-hander Junior Harding (Cambridge, Md./Cambridge-South Dorchester) made his verbal commitment.
Harding’s stock has exploded since setting a Perfect Game record in the World Wood Bat Association U-15 tournament the end of June when he hit 94 miles per hour on the radar gun. Since then, coaches from a who’s who of colleges have been by to see Harding pitch and most have thrown offers his way.
North Carolina, Virginia, Miami, LSU, and a host of others were recruiting Harding, who visited South Carolina unofficially on his way home from Marietta, Ga. for the WWBA U-16 tournament. When the visit was over, Harding committed.
“It’s always been one of my dream schools,” Harding said shortly after committing to the Gamecocks. “I talked with coach Holbrook for a while, met coach Meyers, and spent some time with coach Esposito. I toured the academic center, took a look at the field, and it’s going to be a great fit.”
A Cambridge, Md. native, Harding grew interested in the Gamecocks watching them in the College World Series in recent years. He joined the Canes summer travel team, a program that South Carolina heavily recruits, and everything fell into place.
“When they were in the World Series, that’s when I started following them,” Harding said. “It’s amazing they had a repeat. They lost in the championship this year, but they had a great run.”
South Carolina assistant coach Sammy Esposito scouted Harding on Thursday in the WWBA U-16 tournament and the two set up an unofficial visit shortly after the conclusion of the tournament.
Harding was 90-92 in his relief effort getting three ground balls against the three batters he faced on Thursday afternoon. He’s been clocked as high as 94 mph on the radar gun as he’s quickly made a name for himself with his electric right arm. In addition to his power fastball, he also has an 82 mph slider, which is another swing-and-miss pitch.
“I think I did pretty good,” Harding said of his time in Marietta. “I pounded the zone, did what I had to do to get outs. I guess that’s what coaches look for. I’ve got a fast-twitch motion and put a lot of effort into the ball. I like to pound the zone and get outs.”
Class of 2014 RHP Junior Harding
Harding has become one of the arms that the Evoshield Canes have really relied on this summer. He will be in Peoria, Az. at the end of the month for the Perfect Game 17U World Series.
“He has swing and miss stuff. That’s what makes him good. He’s not a nibbler,” Evoshield Canes coach Jeff Petty said. “He goes after guys with everything he’s got. If you need a strikeout or punch out, he’s a guy you bring in in that situation. I think mentality-wise, he is a closer. I think he could be a starter because his arm is in shape enough but mentality wise, he likes the ball in tight spots and goes after people. He’s not scared of anybody. “
Harding has pitched in relief for the Canes this summer but is typically a starter for his high school team. At the college level, he is likely to come out of the bullpen, which is a role he’s very comfortable with.
“I see myself as a closer,” Harding said. “I like coming in with the game on the line, giving it my all, and securing the win.”
With Harding’s pledge, there are now six members of the 2014 class with three committing this week. Harding is the first pitcher in the class.
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