USC Alumni drop second straight to Blowfish

In the third installment of the Independence weekend exhibition series between the Columbia Blowfish and the USC Alumni team, the Gamecocks fell victim to some timely hitting and dropped a 5-0 decision for their second straight loss in the series. But for former South Carolina pitcher Lee Gronkiewicz, the game became his first win as the new head coach of the Blowfish.

Former South Carolina pitcher Lee Gronkiewicz had gone through a whirlwind few days. After being introduced as the new head coach of the Columbia Blowfish, Gronkiewicz made his coaching debut in Florence against the Redwolves and suffered a loss on a single by current South Carolina player Steven Neff in the third inning, which led to a 3-2 loss for the Blowfish.

Fast-forward 24 hours and the former minor league star who was once slated to start for the USC Alumni team against the Blowfish in the annual Independence weekend exhibition game was now in the opposing dugout coaching against plenty of former teammates and friends.

So when the Columbia players doused Gronkiewicz with a ceremonial Gatorade bath following the 5-0 win, it was a cooling down moment that the new coach relished.

"I'm loving it so far," Gronkiewicz said. "I didn't think I'd be a manager to tell you the truth. I'd always expected to be a pitching coach. I look forward to it."

With no prior management experience, Gronkiewicz turned to a familiar resource to help guide him in his home debut at Capital City Stadium, and it appears to have paid dividends.

"There's a lot to it. A lot more than I thought," Gronkiewicz said. "I was on the phone this morning with coach (Ray) Tanner going over stuff with him because I didn't know what to do. So I went to the best, and coach Tanner is the best out there."

The Blowfish scored two runs in each of the first two innings to run out to an early lead, and they kept the Alumni team off the board to secure their second straight win the series and take a 2-1 lead in the overall "Gamefish" cup rivalry.

Of the 19 listed players on the USC Alumni roster, 11 played with Gronkiewicz during his time in Columbia. The list featured minor league players like Steven Bondurant, Matt Campbell and Bryan Triplett and numerous players with experience playing in the College World Series. So it came as a surprise to team "owner" Trey Dyson when the Gamecocks could only muster seven hits and struck out eight times.

"It's so hard to hit whenever you don't hit, but I know that's not an excuse. But what can you say? We had a lot of fun and hopefully we'll be better next year," Dyson said.

Dyson, who now works as a mortgage broker in Columbia, has organized the team each year but turned coaching duties over to Garris Gonce for the season after the catcher criticized some things following last season's 4-1 loss. The Gamecocks won the opening game in the rivalry 8-5 back in 2007.

Despite the shutout, Dyson wasn't up for offering much criticism himself.

"I'm kind of scared of Garris honestly. Have you seen him? He's big and strong," Dyson said. "Garris did a good job, the Blowfish just outplayed us this time."

The team did get a strong effort from second baseman Bryan Jeffcoat, who went 3-for-4 with two singles and a double. But the bottom two men in the Blowfish lineup did most of the damage as Jim Rider and Catlin Carter combined to go 5-for-8 with three singles, a double and a triple. The tandem was responsible for three of the team's five runs.

Though the Alumni team did take the loss, Dyson was happy for his former teammate to get his first win.

"Gronk is a great friend of mine. He's what I was telling people earlier, the word 'perseverance' is Lee Gronkiewicz," Dyson said. "He wants to get into coaching. Hopefully this will be a good start for him. I'm really happy for him and want to see him do well. I know he will."

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