South Carolina starter Noah Hall readjusted his belt and flung his right hand toward the sky.
Hall, who was perhaps ringing up UMass-Lowell first baseman Conor Kelly himself following his first strikeout of the day, strutted off the mound, slapping hands with his Gamecocks teammates that greeted him just off the playing surface.
That swagger. That spark. That edge that made Hall so dynamic a year ago seems to be back.
Saturday’s 17-1 romp of UMass-Lowell included little in the way of drama. The Gamecocks clubbed four home runs and finished 8-for-18 with runners in scoring position to batter the visiting River Hawks for the second consecutive day.
But on a day in which offense overshadowed his effort some, it was Hall’s maturity and slippery stuff on the bump that feels likely to have lasting implications beyond bashing an overmatched opening weekend opponent.
The ex-Appalachian State pitcher slogged a smidge through the opening frame. River Hawks two-hole hitter Jacob Humphrey smacked a single through the left side for the first hit of the day. A stolen base, a wild pitch and a Gerry Siracusa double to center later and Hall surrendered the first run of the Gamecocks young season.
Those 7,323 fans in attendance inched toward the edges of their seats.
But as the sun started to warm those smattering the stands in varying stages of winter attire, Hall, too, heated up. The River Hawks grounded out and flied out to start the second inning. Hall fanned Kelly for the third out of the frame, as he marched off the mound and toward the Gamecocks dugout.
The third inning brought much of the same — two fly outs and a foul out. The fourth? A line out, a ground out and a strike out. Hall promptly rolled through the fifth, recording a pair of fly outs and a ground out.
South Carolina’s No. 2 starter retired 12 of 13 batters between the second and fifth innings, including 10 consecutive. He also connected with the strike zone on 37 of 45 pitches (88%) in that same span.
Hall had his moments amid a forgettable 2022 season. With the South Carolina staff decimated by injuries, Hall was moved from the bullpen to No. 2 starter behind ace Will Sanders out of necessity as much as anything.
Consider that gamble worth it.
Hall finished his first season in Columbia with 78 strikeouts over 76.2 innings pitched. He went at least 5.2 innings in eight of 12 starts and lasted seven innings or more on five different occasions.
In theory, Hall could’ve turned pro after being selected in the 20th round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. He instead opted to return to school and operate as the second piece in dynamic 1-2 punch atop the South Carolina pitching staff alongside Sanders.
This year, due in large part to his effectiveness a year ago, has brought serious expectations for Hall. Sanders remains the unmistakable No. 1 on the Gamecocks’ staff, but Hall will and needs to be an effective piece in the weekend rotation.
Saturday, Hall’s day ended much the way it got rolling — via a six-pitch strikeout of Siracusa. Pitching coach Justin Parker embraced his starter as he left the mound. The crowd roared in approval at Hall’s 5.1 innings pitched.
Assuming his form holds beyond opening weekend, expect plenty more swaggy struts off the bump from Hall this spring.